Seventeen-year-old Solberg delivers sensational performance to win Rally Liepāja

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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 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 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, Lithuanian prospect 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 Peugeot Rally Academy’s Catie Munnings reached the end of an eventful rally to clinch ERC Ladies’ Trophy honours.

Torn triumphs in ERC3 Junior
Estonian Autosport Junior Team driver Ken Torn clinched FIA ERC3 Junior Championship victory on Rally Liepāja ahead of Sindre Furuseth and Steve Røkland.

Torn’s win on his maiden appearance in the Pirelli-supported category is the second in a row for the new-for-2019 Ford Fiesta R2T following Jean-Baptiste Franceschi’s victory on Rally Islas Canarias. The two drivers were locked in a close battle into the second leg in Latvia, with Torn just 12 seconds ahead after eight stages.

Franceschi then drove SS9 with the bonnet up on his car, hampering visibility, after forgetting to lock it shut before the stage. That demoted him to fourth place and gave Torn a more comfortable advantage that he could nurse to the finish, taking the win by 29.4 seconds.

Norwegian Peugeot 208 R2 drivers Furuseth and Røkland both led early in the rally prior to small issues and staged an exciting fight for second place on the final day. Furuseth ultimately held on, with his final 15s margin exaggerated by a 10s penalty for a jump start by Røkland on the penultimate stage.

After his earlier mistake, Franceschi tried to fight back to regain his second place, but was one of several drivers to receive a penalty for not correctly navigating a chicane on SS5, which left him fourth.

ERC3 Junior championship leader Efren Llarena of Rally Team Spain just held onto fifth place. FPAK Portugal Team ERC’s Pedro Antunes had closed to within 2.5s during the Sunday morning loop, but Llarena eked out his advantage to 4.7s during the afternoon. The fight for seventh in ERC3 Junior was even closer, with Kristof Klausz holding off Roman Schwedt by 1.4s. Gregor Jeets took P10 on his debut in the second Estonian Autosport Junior Team entry, having lost seven minutes when he stopped with a turbo issue in SS3.

Not eligible for ERC3 Junior, Yohan Rossel was seventh among the ERC3 crews. Fellow Peugeot driver Sean Johnston was P10 as the American former circuit racer continued his learning on gravel. Catie Munnings claimed maximum ERC Ladies’ Trophy points with the Peugeot Rally Academy in P11.

Erik Cais was on course for seventh in ERC3 when he rolled in SS9. Grégoire Munster had stopped out of eighth on the preceding stage, breaking his Opel’s driveshaft after hitting a wooden post at the side of the road. Dominik Brož rolled out of P11 in ERC3 Junior on SS7.

After losing a wheel on Saturday, Miikka Hokkanen restarted and was second only to Torn in ERC3 during the second leg, going quickest on SS10 and SS11.

Nucita fights back for ERC Abarth Rally Cup victory
Andrea Nucita fought back from opening-leg issues on Rally Liepāja to claim victory on the second round of the Abarth Rally Cup to be held within the FIA European Rally Championship.

The Italian driver had led the category for much of Saturday, but braking and gear-change issues meant he went into the final leg with a deficit of 28.5 seconds to Dariusz Poloński. Poloński held onto his advantage by going 0.8s faster than Nucita in SS6, but a spin for the Polish driver at the beginning of SS7 allowed Nuctia to move ahead by three seconds.

A further incident for Poloński on SS8, when he went off the road into a ditch, caused him to lose more than a minute and couldn’t recover. After an ECU issue halted him during leg one, Latvia’s FIA World Rallycross Championship star Reinis Nitišs returned and was the quickest driver through leg two, with wins on the two passes of the Liepāja stage.

Sirmacis seals ERC2 success on Rally Liepāja return

Ralfs Sirmacis has tasted success on the FIA European Rally Championship’s Rally Liepāja for a second time after claiming ERC2 victory on his return to international action.

The Latvian driver enjoyed a final winning margin of 10 minutes, having seen his expected rivals Vytautas Švedas, Dmitry Feofanov and Sergey Remmenik all retire within the first three stages of the rally on Saturday. Sirmacis’s win on his first ERC2 outing follows his outright Rally Liepāja win in 2016.

Kuwaiti Meshari El-Thefiri moved up to second place on Sunday, ahead of the Abarth Rally Cup winner Andrea Nucita. Zelindo Melegari took fourth, with Dariusz Poloński ending up fifth after some time-consuming spins.

Švedas restarted on Sunday and broke Sirmacis’s sequence of stage wins. Meanwhile, Melegari is now one point behind Juan Carlos Alonso in the title standings with Argentine Alonso not including the Latvian event as one of his scoring rounds.

PROVISIONAL 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

SS1-13: Solberg/Johnston

Please refer to attached file

ERC rally wins in 2019: Habaj, López and Solberg 1
ERC stage wins in 2019: Lukyanuk 16; Solberg 10; López 5, Loubet 4; Habaj and Teodósio 3; Ingram 2; Moura and Suárez 1