Motor Sport News - - Who Is Fredrik Ahlin? -

hen the news was an­nounced at the start of 2016 that El­fyn Evans was join­ing the Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship, the rest of the crews must have groaned as the year was writ­ten off as no-hoper. The Dol­gel­lau driver would surely walk away with it.

In­stead, a young pre­tender from Karl­stad, Swe­den, launched him­self onto the scene and leads the re­vived cham­pi­onship af­ter three rounds. His name? Fredrik Ah­lin. If any­one was born to be a rally driver, it was prob­a­bly Fredrik. The 24-year-old has an un­matched lin­eage in the sport ( see be­low), win­ning a rally be­fore he en­tered the world.

“My mother did one of her last seasons of ral­ly­ing in the 1990s,” says Ah­lin. “With me in her stom­ach. I was not even born be­fore I got my first taste of cham­pagne!”

How­ever, it’s been far from a me­te­oric rise to the top for a driver who – with his fam­ily his­tory – should re­ally have had it eas­ier.

To un­der­stand his rise-fall-rise ca­reer so far, you re­ally have to go back to the be­gin­ning.the path started in his native Swe­den on ‘youth’ ral­lies, for 16-year-olds with­out pacenotes. But af­ter he got his driv­ing li­cence at the age of 18, his per­for­mances in a Subaru Im­preza N12 gave him the chance of a life­time. A shot at a spot in the WRC Academy, now the Drive DMACK Tro­phy, through a sub­sidised drive from tyre man­u­fac­turer Pirelli.

“In 2010 I was se­lected from Swe­den for the Pirelli Star Driver Shootout,” says Ah­lin. “The first shootout was the north­ern-euro­pean one, where me, Craig Breen, Es­apekka Lappi and Dave We­ston Jr at­tended, and I won ahead of Craig and so we went through to the fi­nal. We won the fi­nal to­gether with Craig and some other boys and won the free drive in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship in 2011.”

That’s right. Ah­lin beat Fin­land’s hottest prop­erty Lappi and cur­rent Citroen WRC driver Breen. But it was too early for Ah­lin. Hav­ing done only eight ral­lies on pacenotes, he wasn’t any­where near ex­pe­ri­enced enough to take on the fu­ture stars of the WRC. Ah­lin’s only two stage wins that year came on ral­lies he re­tired on, with an im­pres­sive podium in Italy the only fruit from a bap­tism of fire.

Af­ter show­ing speed in 2011, it was sup­posed to be his year in 2012. It started with lead­ing the Por­tuguese sea­son opener and tak­ing three stage wins. But it all un­rav­elled from there.

“On the first round, we were the quick­est, took the most stage wins and we were lead­ing the rally when I made a mis­take,” adds the Swede. “From then on ev­ery­thing went spi­ralling down­hill into a very dark pe­riod for my­self. There was a lot of bad crashes, ac­ci­dents and mis­takes.

“It fin­ished off with a very big crash in Spain where I broke some ribs and I still have mem­ory loss from the ac­ci­dent. I can’t re­mem­ber the day be­fore or the day af­ter. It was a very big ac­ci­dent.”

Ac­ci­dents like that can put doubt in the mind, and any sane rally driver will tell you that driv­ing on the limit with even a shade of doubt or hes­i­ta­tion is a recipe for dis­as­ter. It led the young­ster to con­sider his fu­ture in the sport.

“That year was hard as we’d had a lot of crashes and when you have the big­gest crash of your ca­reer you stop and start to think what you are do­ing, why you are do­ing it and whether you want to con­tinue,” he adds. “I was only 20 years old but I was still think­ing about stop­ping ral­ly­ing.”

Af­ter the tor­rent of bad – or lack of – luck, Ah­lin had to go back to ba­sics. He de­cided to run a Ford Fi­esta R2 on Swedish, Fin­nish and Nor­we­gian ral­lies. The step down in rel­a­tive com­pe­ti­tion re­launched his ca­reer in Swe­den and Scan­di­navia, cul­mi­nat­ing in a one-off drive in a Skoda Fabia S2000 on the de­cid­ing round of the Swedish Rally Cham­pi­onship in 2013, where he fin­ished sec­ond.

The next year he was back in the WRC and back on the podium on his native Rally Swe­den in WRC2. Spo­radic out­ings in WRC2 in 2014 and ’15 did not bring much suc­cess. There were me­chan­i­cal is­sues, but Ah­lin still con­tin­ued to show his pace, es­pe­cially in 2015.

“In Fin­land the al­ter­na­tor belt snapped, and on Wales Rally GB we broke a drive­shaft and we restarted day two,” he ex­plains. “On day three we were the only one match­ing Craig [Breen’s] times, I think we were sec­ond on all the stages. We showed the pace was there but we never got the whole pack­age to­gether.”

And onto 2016. A deal was penned early in the year at the Au­tosport show with CA1 Sport to run his Leove­gas-backed Fi­esta R5in the Bri­tish cham­pi­onship, with Pirelli rub­ber and trusty co-driver Morten Erik Abra­ham­sen on the notes. And the Swede has re­ally reaped the re­wards.

Pre­dictably, El­fyn Evans opened up an early lead in Mid Wales, the open­ing round of the BRC. But Ah­lin stuck with him and even grabbed the lead on Satur­day morn­ing be­fore an all-out blitz by Evans gave him the win on one of his favourite stages, Hafren/sweet Lamb. Ah­lin set­tled for sec­ond, sens­ing the Welsh­man was un­touch­able.

The real test for the Swede was the Cir­cuit of Ire­land, hav­ing not driven a four-wheel-drive car in anger on asphalt, and not on the sur­face at all since his WRC Academy days. How­ever, Brc-lead­ing times in the ab­sence of Evans, who re­tired with a snapped al­ter­na­tor belt, should have al­lowed him an easy win. The pace shown by the gravel/snow spe­cial­ist was quite out of the or­di­nary and sur­prised a few of the Ir­ish Tar­mac Cham­pi­onship reg­u­lars com­pet­ing on the event.

How­ever, per­haps his in­ex­pe­ri­ence of fight­ing for a cham­pi­onship shone through. A small mis­take on Fri­day, which bent the front left, was fol­lowed up with a shunt on Satur­day, rul­ing him out of the rally.

“Ire­land was re­ally good, I was maybe just go­ing a bit too quick be­cause of my lack of driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on asphalt,” ex­plains Ah­lin. “That’s nor­mally the prob­lem, when you have the pace in your body but not the ex­pe­ri­ence, it can go wrong. It’s just one of those things.”

CA1 team boss Martin Wilkin­son has dealt with a few driv­ers who have pushed the car over the limit be­fore (Colin Mcrae for one) but be­lieves that Fredrik’s pace is not only un­de­ni­able, it’s on par with the seem­ingly supreme Evans.

“Fredrik has a long way to go,” says Wilkin­son. “If you com­pare the ex­pe­ri­ence Fredrik has to the ex­pe­ri­ence El­fyn has it’s night and day. It’s al­most like a club driver com­par­ing him­self to a WRC driver. El­fyn has been there and proved his speed on cer­tain events, look at his pace on Cor­sica [in 2015], it was un­be­liev­able. Fredrik hasn’t got any­where near the same ex­pe­ri­ence. When we went to Ire­land that was Fredrik’s first proper drive on Tar­mac in a four-wheel-drive car. You can’t com­pare him to El­fyn on ex­pe­ri­ence. But one thing you cer­tainly can com­pare him to El­fyn on at the mo­ment is speed.”

With that in mind, and El­fyn back flatchat on the next round, Carlisle, the bat­tle re­sumed. With three rounds gone, it’s a bat­tle that looks set to de­fine the sea­son.

A punc­ture on day two made sure El­fyn couldn’t challenge, and an is­sue with the bo­gey times be­ing beaten meant the Welsh­man was un­likely to take sec­ond ei­ther. The Swede did strug­gle to un­der­stand how he’d taken six sec­onds out of Evans but beaten the bo­gey and there­fore tied on times. A rogue sand­wich was thrown into the trees in frus­tra­tion.

But, it was more valu­able points for Ah­lin. Not only that, but when the cars ar­rived at the fin­ish he was first on the leader­board, boosted by play­ing his dou­ble-points joker. The cham­pi­onship lead is his.

How­ever, the job is far from done. With Evans dom­i­nant on asphalt, three of the re­main­ing four rounds of the BRC fea­ture tar, which is why Fredrik has cho­sen to miss Rally Fin­land to test and im­prove on the pace shown in Ire­land.

So, has the Swede turned a cor­ner? Has he shaken off his cruel nick­name in Swe­den? “In the end I’m just driv­ing for my­self and I’m not too both­ered what peo­ple think or don’t think,” claims Ah­lin. “I’ve had a very rough ca­reer and those who have fol­lowed me through it know I’m called ‘Fredrik bad luck’ in Swe­den. I’ve made my mis­takes but I’ve had a huge amount of bad luck in my ca­reer. A lot of peo­ple called me [af­ter the Pirelli Carlisle] say­ing fi­nally your true po­ten­tial is com­ing out. I think you need to look at the whole pack­age and at the minute we have that pack­age and that’s why we can de­liver top re­sults.”

That is un­de­ni­able: car, driver, co-driver, team and tyres are work­ing in al­most per­fect har­mony. Go­ing on to take the 2016 Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship crown will be a tough or­der. For one, the fi­nale – Rally Isle of Man – is a dou­ble points-scor­ing round. So a DNF there will al­most cer­tainly cost you the ti­tle.

But in some re­spects, the job is al­ready done. Ah­lin has matched ar­guably the best driver in an R5 car any­where in the world in Evans, so a step up on to a big­ger stage surely beck­ons. A full sea­son in WRC2 next year? Who knows. But there’s un­fin­ished busi­ness in the BRC, and Ah­lin fan­cies the ti­tle.

Freddy Kot­tulin­sky: 1980 Dakar win... ...in the VW Iltis four-wheel drive FK on the 1978 Lom­bard RAC Rally... Ah­lin has been im­pressed with BRC, and vice versa The Swede won a drive in the WRC Academy in 2011in a Fi­esta ...in the Audi 80 GT/E (Left) Succe

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