Puncture costs Solberg podium shot on Swedish ŠKODA debut
Eighteen-year-old Oliver Solberg delivered a strong ŠKODA FABIA Rally2 evo debut at Rally Sweden which finished in Torsby on Sunday afternoon. Despite never having competed in the ŠKODA, Oliver posted his first fastest time in the WRC 3 category and was denied a potential podium position with a final-stage puncture.
Heading into that final stage, Oliver was going head-to-head with one of his more familiar competitors: his father Petter’s team-mate from the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden World Rallycross Championship team, Johan Kristoffersson.
“It was a really nice fight with Johan,” said Oliver, “and it was really a shame we didn’t get to take it all the way to the finish. The puncture was a tough way to finish the event, but everything for me is positive from this rally.
“The first day was not so easy, but we made some changes to the car and things were coming really good on Saturday. It was so nice driving in the FABIA.”
A change of transmission ahead of Saturday improved the feeling and allowed him to demonstrate the sort of pace which helped him make history as the youngest ever winner of an FIA European Rally Championship round last season.
“The changes we made on Friday night were definitely the right way to go,” said Oliver. “The balance in the car on Saturday felt really nice and we could push harder – this is where we were making our best times.”
Oliver’s Monster Energy-backed ŠKODA was fastest or second fastest on three of Saturday’s four stages.
A left-rear puncture on the final stage cost him close to two minutes and any hope of fighting off Kristoffersson for third place in WRC 3.
Like their fellow crews, Oliver and co-driver Aaron Johnston found winter missing from this year’s Rally Sweden. Warmer than expected temperatures forced the cancellation of the majority of Swedish stages, leaving the event to run much of the Friday-Saturday route across the border in Norway. The final day’s mileage was also halved when one of two runs at the Likenäs stage was cancelled.
“The conditions were not easy,” said Oliver. “But what the organisers of this rally did in the last few weeks was just amazing – they all worked so hard to make it work. I want to say a lot of congratulations to the team and especially to all the volunteers who stood in the rain.”
Oliver’s next event will offer complete contrast as he heads from an admittedly warm winter directly to the high-altitude and baking hot stages of Rally Mexico (León, March 12-15) where he will be back competing in his Polo GTI R5 alongside Aaron.