ERC1 Junior Solberg heads high-speed Liepaja battle
Seventeen-year-old Oliver Solberg leads on his debut at the top level of the FIA European Rally Championship on Rally Liepāja, heading Alexey Lukyanuk and fellow ERC1 Junior star Mārtiņš Sesks into the final day in Latvia.
Solberg, the son of 2003 world champion Petter, has led from the start in his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 and been quickest on four of the five high-speed gravel stages run so far.
While a half-spin on the final stage of the first loop allowed reigning ERC champion Lukyanuk to close in, Solberg responded to open up a 9.7-second advantage during the two afternoon tests.
Lukyanuk began the day cautiously in his Saintéloc Junior Team-entered Citroën C3 R5, but a quickest time on SS3 allowed him to move into second place and close to within 3.8s of the lead. While he had no answer to Solberg’s speed in the afternoon, he continues to keep the teenager under pressure.
Sesks has also impressed on his ERC1 Junior debut, with the 19-year-old Liepāja resident holding a podium position on his maiden outing in an R5 car as the first of two prize drives for winning the FIA ERC3 Junior Championship title in 2018.
He has an 11.6-second advantage over fellow ŠKODA Fabia R5 driver Chris Ingram, having been quicker than the ERC1 Junior points leader on all but the final stage. Ingram pledged to give everything to match the speed of the top three over more familiar stages on Sunday.
Team STARD’s Japanese driver Hiroki Arai completed the day in a fine fifth overall on his first day driving a Citroën C3 R5, but he faces a time penalty after he was seven minutes late out of remote service when his car failed to start.
ERC championship leader Łukasz Habaj is sixth overall despite missing a junction in SS4. The Sports Racing Technologies driver increased his margin over seventh-placed Filip Mareš to 11.9s when the ACCR Czech Rally Team driver had an overshoot of his own on SS5.
Cypriot Alexandros Tsouloftas is eighth overall on his first high-speed gravel rally while Sweden National Team’s Mattias Adielsson and Norbert Herczig both leapt into the top 10 at the end of the day, with the Hungarian just 5.8s ahead of Marijan Griebel. Eyvind Brynildsen was ninth until he conceded around a minute in SS5, dropping to P14 to avoid running first on the road on Sunday’s final leg when the top 10 positions at the end of leg one are reversed.
ERC rookie Vaidotas Žala had passed Arai for fifth in SS2 only to suffer a puncture and go off the road on the following test, costing him five minutes in total.
Ralfs Sirmacis, an ERC Junior graduate and former winner of Rally Liepāja, leads ERC2 in P12. With three of his closest rivals ruled out of contention during the morning, his class advantage is a comfortable one over Abarth Rally Cup leader Darius Poloński, who overhauled Andrea Nucita in SS5 after the Italian lost time with gearbox and brake issues.
Ken Torn leads ERC3 and ERC3 Junior by 12.8 seconds over fellow Ford Fiesta R2T driver Jean-Baptiste Franceschi and Norwegian Peugeot 208 duo Sindre Furuseth and Steve Røkland, who both lost time after problems on SS2. Catie Munnings is on course for an ERC Ladies’ Cup win in P14 in ERC for the Peugeot Rally Academy.