ERC 2019 season recap: Rally Liepaja
Teenager Oliver Solberg made history as the youngest winner of an FIA European Rally Championship event by winning Rally Liepāja on his ERC1 Junior debut.
The 17-year-old, son of 2003 world champion Petter Solberg, led the high-speed gravel event from start to finish in his Pirelli-equipped Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, posting the fastest time on 10 of the 13 stages alongside Northern Irish co-driver Aaron Johnston.
Heading reigning ERC champion Alexey Lukyanuk by 9.7 seconds at the end of the first leg, Solberg simply increased his advantage on the final day and finished up 22.7s clear of the Russian.
“It’s the biggest day of my life,” Solberg said. “I have never driven so good as I’ve done now.”
Lukyanuk was quickest on SS9 and SS12 in his Saintéloc Junior Team-entered Citroën C3 R5, but admitted to being under pressure to finish, having failed to do so on the Azores Rallye and Rally Islas Canarias earlier this season.
Another first-time ERC1 Junior star finished in third overall, with Mārtiņš Sesks securing a place on the podium on his first event driving an R5 car. On the first of two prize drives for winning last year’s ERC3 Junior crown, the native of Liepāja produced a quick and consistent performance, once again demonstrating his potential.
Chris Ingram faced late drama when he holed his ŠKODA’s radiator on the penultimate stage. Repairs before the final test ensured he could finish in fourth overall, increasing his ERC1 Junior points lead and moving him to within one point of overall championship pacesetter Łukasz Habaj, who came home fifth for the Latvian Sports Racing Technologies team.
ACCR Czech Rally Team’s Filip Mareš enjoyed a trouble-free run to sixth overall and fourth in ERC1 Junior. Double ERC Junior champion Marijan Griebel produced a stronger second leg to soar from P11 to seventh, passing Hiroki Arai on the penultimate stage.
Eyvind Brynildsen finished ninth, moving back into the top 10 with a series of top-five stage times on the final day, having conceded eighth position on Saturday evening to avoid running towards the front of the road order for the second day.
Sweden National Team’s Mattias Adielsson took P10 away from Alexandros Tsouloftas – driving stages vastly different in nature to his native Cyprus – during the final afternoon.
ERC Junior graduate Ralfs Sirmacis claimed a dominant ERC2 win in P13 overall upon his return to action on home soil. Ken Torn took ERC3 and ERC3 Junior honours for the Estonian Autosport Junior Team ahead of Norwegian duo Sindre Furuseth and Steve Røkland. Round two of the Abarth Rally Cup went the way of Andrea Nucita over Darius Poloński, while Peugeot Rally Academy’s Catie Munnings reached the end of an eventful rally to clinch ERC Ladies’ Trophy honours.
RALLY LIEPĀJA, 24-26 MAY 2019
TOP 10 POSITIONS (after 13 stages, 205.96 kilometres)
1 Oliver Solberg (LVA)Aaron Johnston (GBR) Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 1h40m31.9s
2 Alexey Lukyanuk (RUS)/Alexey Arnautov (RUS) Citroën C3 R5 +22.7s
3 Mārtiņš Sesks (LVA)/Krišjānis Caune (LVA) ŠKODA Fabia R5 +57.4s
4 Chris Ingram (GBR)/Ross Whittock (GBR) ŠKODA Fabia R5 +1m16.8s
5 Łukasz Habaj (POL)/Daniel Dymurski (POL) ŠKODA Fabia R5 +2m17.7s
6 Filip Mareš (CZE)/Jan Hloušek (CZE) ŠKODA Fabia R5 +3m02.4s
7 Marijan Griebel (DEU)/Stefan Kopczyk (DEU) ŠKODA Fabia R5 +3m32.0s
8 Hiroki Arai (JPN)/Ilka Minor (AUT) Citroën C3 R5 +3m36.5s
9 Eyvind Brynildsen (NOR)/Cato Menkerud (NOR) ŠKODA Fabia R5 +3m46.2s
10 Mattias Adielsson (SWE)/Andreas Johansson (SWE) Citroën C3 R5 +4m12.6s
FIA ERC2: Ralfs Sirmacis (LVA)/Ralfs Igaveṇš (LVA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X
FIA ERC3: Ken Torn (EST)/Kauri Pannas (EST) Ford Fiesta R2T
FIA ERC1 Junior: Oliver Solberg (LVA)Aaron Johnston (GBR) Volkswagen Polo GTI
FIA ERC3 Junior: Ken Torn (EST)/Kauri Pannas (EST) Ford Fiesta R2T
Abarth Rally Cup: Andrea Nucita (ITA)/Alina Bianca Pop (ROU) Abarth 124 rally
ERC Ladies’ Trophy: Catie Munnings (GBR) Peugeot 208 R2