Sat 15 Jun 2024

Super-fast Solberg defends his crown in ERC epic

Oliver Solberg is a double BAUHAUS Royal Rally of Scandinavia winner after he outpaced his rivals in a high-speed battle for FIA European Rally Championship glory.

The 22-year-old from Sweden began the second day of ERC action with a narrow 3.3sec lead over Hayden Paddon. But while Paddon admitted to “pulling the commitment down” due to having “no feeling or grip” during the morning loop, Solberg went on a charge.

 

Driving a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 on Pirelli tyres, Solberg was fastest on all four stages this morning to reach midday service in Karlstad leading by 13.7sec.

 

And the FIA WRC2 Championship frontrunner continued to push during the afternoon, adding another four stage wins to his tally – including the event-closing Power Stage – to come out on top by 38.0sec after Paddon was slowed by tyre damage on the deciding test and dropped to third.

“Yesterday I wasn’t happy but today the feeling is better, the car suits better today’s roads and I found good confidence,” said Solberg, who was co-driven to first place by Briton Elliott Edmondson.

 

“The car slides a lot on these roads but today’s roads are wider and you have more margin so the speed was good and like this you have to be happy.

 

“But there are such small gaps. Yesterday for me the level here was much higher than WRC2. It was so close in the times, it was crazy, fantastic.”

 

For defending ERC champion Paddon, third place marked his first podium finish of the season. And with Mathieu Franceschi crashing out on the Power Stage, Paddon is now equal on 56 points with the Frenchman at the top of the title table.

“Oliver has been doing a very good job and we didn’t have any answer,” said Paddon, who was on course for a Pirelli one-two in his BRC Racing Team-entered Hyundai i20 N Rally2 until his Power Stage woe. “It’s frustrating [the result] is probably a bit more than we expected because the others are getting faster and we’re probably a bit more limited with our package. We improved it for this rally but when the grip levels were low, like they were this morning, we struggled more and we weren’t able to put up a fight.”

 

After the frustration of retiring from the lead of the V-Híd Rally Hungary season opener in April, Michelin-shod Heikkilä’s podium finish was richly deserved, although a pop-off valve issue on SS15, and a wide moment at a junction on the penultimate test, allowed Mathieu Franceschi to close up to within 3.8sec of Heikkilä. However, the Toyota-driving Finn moved into second when Paddon was slowed as Franceschi suffered the heartbreak of retirement for the first time in 2024.

 

A spin for Frank Tore Larsen on SS12 proved costly when the Norwegian dropped almost 18sec trying to get his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 pointing in the right direction. But he regained his composure to finish fourth as Mads Østberg battled handling and power issues to finish fifth in his TRT Rally Team Citroën C3 Rally2. 

 

Mārtiṇš Sesks dropped out of the top-five fight when his Toyota stalled and half-spun twice in quick succession in sight of the SS10 finish. “I don’t know what’s happening, the car just stalled under braking,” the dejected MRF Tyres-equipped driver said after he dropped almost 20sec and slipped from fifth to eighth before coming through to sixth.

Isak Reiersen, a 20-year-old car mechanic from Karlstad and the Junior ERC winner on BAUHAUS Royal Rally of Scandinavia last year, impressed in seventh with Miko Marczyk, Andrea Mabellini and Simone Tempestini rounding out the top 10.

 

Multiple FIA World Rallycross champion Johan Kristoffersson took 11th followed by Kalle Gustavssson, 2022 ERC champion Efrén Llarena and Hankook-equipped Filip Mareš, who opened the road throughout the final day.

 

Jon Armstrong and Eyvind Brynildsen started leg two in the points-paying top 15 but dropped out with overheating and brake issues respectively.

 

Philip Allen, who completed leg one ahead of Petter Solberg, rolled into retirement on SS12 as Solberg, the winner of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, overcame a steering rack issue to finish 15th – and claim the final ERC point – on his first international rally since 2019 and his first European championship start since 1998.

Latvia
Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Italy
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Hungary
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM