Team MRF pairing Emil Lindholm and Craig Breen dominated the shakedown stage for Rally Fafe Montelongo, but fellow European Rally Championship title contender Oliver Solberg suffered a big accident on his second practice run.
Solberg ran wide on Vila Pouca and struck a tree with the left-rear corner of his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, inflicting significant damage on the rear of the Polo and forcing the shakedown stage to be stopped as his car was recovered.
Both Solberg and co-driver Aaron Johnston were unhurt from their shakedown incident, which had led to a half-hour red flag period.
“It was in a slow right-hander, there was some gravel in the cut which I wasn’t expecting. I did a mistake, the car got away from me and we went off,” Solberg told DirtFish.
Solberg’s team has been granted permission to fix the car, meaning there is no damage to the rollcage or other safety aspects of the Volkswagen.
“This is definitely not the start we wanted today,” he said.
“I didn’t want to give my team this much work overnight, but I know they’ll be flat out to try to get us repaired to start tomorrow. Fortunately, we have the best boys in the world working with us.”
A Solberg crashing on shakedown for an asphalt rally is nothing new.
Seventeen years ago this month, Oliver’s father Petter crashed his Subaru Impreza WRC03 heavily at shakedown for the Tour de Corse. The Prodrive team worked through the night to fix the car, and Solberg Sr paid them back three days later when he won the rally.
Solberg Jr wasn’t the only driver caught out by Fafe Montelongo’s shakedown stage either, as local Peugeot 208 T16 driver José Paula went off during his first run and caused another red flag.
Team MRF’s duo of Lindholm and Breen were quickest off the mark, as Lindholm set the early pace on the first set of runs.
Breen responded with the fastest time but was ultimately pipped by Lindholm again, who went 0.277s faster than his more experienced team-mate with a 1m57.250s.
Heavy rain had battered Fafe on Friday morning but the stages had mostly dried out by the time shakedown began, and Lindholm was surprised at the pace advantage MRF’s cars had over the rest of the field.
“Our full wet tire is good. This was a positive surprise for me in the test we did earlier this week and it seems that the soft one is working quite well in damp conditions,” Lindholm told DirtFish.
“The soft tire was really good. OK, it’s a short stage so you can really push also on the dry sections with the soft tire.
“But even when there is water, the soft tire works really well, so I think it will be the tire for this rally.”
Championship leader Alexey Lukyanuk, who is facing the prospect of missing the rest of the season after Fafe Montelongo due to budget problems, went third quickest and was 1.965s off the pace.
Miko Marczyk and Iván Ares completed the top five times on shakedown, 2.446s and 3.207s respectively off Lindholm’s benchmark time.
Despite his crash Solberg still recorded the seventh-fastest time on his only completed run, and was only just slower than Dominik Dinkel in sixth.
1 Lindholm (Škoda) 1m57.250s
2 Breen (Hyundai) +0.277s
3 Lukyanuk (Citroën) +1.965s
4 Marczyk (Škoda) +2.446s
5 Ares (Hyundai) +3.207s
6 Dinkel (Škoda) +3.529s
7 Solberg (Volkswagen) +3.682s
8 Bonato (Citroën) +4.450s
9 Cais (Ford) +4.632s
10 Herczig (Volkswagen) +5.194s