Teenager Oliver Solberg has 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, the 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 British 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 22.7 seconds 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. I don’t know what to say.
“It’s unbelievable, I can’t understand it. It’s been such a perfect rally. On the penultimate stage I was too cautious, I was driving too stiff. Then I thought I’ll just do what I’ve done the whole weekend and go flat out, and I won the last stage. I’m so happy.”
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.
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 in his ŠKODA Fabia, once again demonstrating his potential.
Chris Ingram faced late drama when he holed a radiator on his ŠKODA in 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.
In his first ERC appearance of the season, 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.
Arai had ended the opening leg in fifth place after his first day driving a Citroën C3 R5 in anger, but a 1m10s time penalty for being late out of Saturday’s remote service due when the car didn’t start put him down to eighth. A further issue on Sunday forced him to run the car in stage mode on the road sections during the morning loop.
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. Norbert Herczig slipped back to P14 after having to sweep the road clear on the final day in his MOL Racing Team Volkswagen.
After losing five minutes to a puncture and subsequent off on Saturday, Vaidotas Žala demonstrated his speed, going second fastest on SS8 as he recovered to P16.
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 Catie Munnings reached the end of an eventful rally to clinch ERC Ladies’ Trophy honours.
01) O. Solberg/A. Johnston (VW Polo GTI R5) – 01h 40m 31.9s
02) A. Lukyanuk/A. Arnautov (Citroen C3 R5) + 22.7s
03) M. Sesks/K. Caune (Skoda Fabia R5) + 57.4s
04) C. Ingram/R. Whittock (Skoda Fabia R5) + 01m 16.8s
05) L. Habaj/D. Dymurski (Skoda Fabia R5) + 02m 17.7s
06) F. Mares/J. Hlousek (Skoda Fabia R5) + 03m 02.4s
07) M. Griebel/S. Kopcyzk (Skoda Fabia R5) + 03m 32.0s
08) A. Hiroki/I. Minor (Citroen C3 R5) + 03m 36.5s
09) E. Brynildsen/C. Menkerud (Skoda Fabia R5) + 03m 46.2s
10) M. Adielsson/A. Johansson (Citroen C3 R5) + 04m 12/6s