Solberg dominates to deliver Royal Rally gold

Oliver Solberg spent Saturday extending his lead at the front of the latest ERC round in Sweden

FIA European Rally Championship 2024 Stop 3 – Karlstad, Sweden

Oliver Solberg has captured back-to-back Royal Rally of Scandinavia wins following a perfect Saturday on his home Swedish stages.

The Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 driver admitted he had struggled to find the feeling through Friday’s opening gravel roads, but Saturday was a different story. The local hero stormed through the woods fastest on every stage to ease his way clear of rival Hayden Paddon. Solberg thrilled the thousands of fans lining the route with a drive that was as surefooted as it was speedy.

Predictably, he was a happy 22-year-old at the finish.

“Today has been so much better,” Solberg told DirtFish. “Yesterday was quite horrible at times, I just couldn’t feel the car. We made some changes and today was really different. Still there were some surprises, when the grip was lower than I expected, but this was a special event with some incredible roads.

“The pressure was quite high coming into this one, I had won last year and I think there was a real expectation for me to do the same again. But it’s not easy, the competition in ERC is really high and all the time there was only tenths of a second between us on Friday. Today I could make a bit more of a gap. It’s so nice to win at home.”

FIA European Rally Championship 2024 Stop 3 - Karlstad, Sweden

Paddon leaves Sweden as joint leader of the championship despite dropping a position with a final-stage puncture

Solberg inched clear of Paddon throughout the day, with the Kiwi torn between chasing glory and landing more European Rally Championship points. The sting in the tail came for him on the final stage, when he suffered a puncture, dropping his Hyundai New Zealand i20 N Rally2 from second to third behind Mikko Heikkilä’s Toyota.

The defending champion was understandably frustrated at the finish.

“We’re just giving points away,” said Paddon. “We tried to save tires for the powerstage, but we’re just giving points away. There was nothing we could really do about Solberg, I was struggling in the low-grip places, the car wasn’t really working there.”

Fifteen seconds up on the Finn going into the final stage, Paddon was powerless to stop his rival passing him after the deflation.

Heikkilä said: “This feels like a win for me. It’s been quite a tough time in some rallies, so I’m very happy. I couldn’t match the speed for Solberg or Paddon, they’re really professional drivers – but this is a good result.”

Heikkilä had been embroiled in a battle with Frenchman Mathieu Franceschi before his rival crashed out on the powerstage. That shunt moved Frank Tore Larsen up to fourth, despite a time-consuming 12th stage spin for the Polo driver. Mads Østberg seemed to spend Saturday fighting with the handling of his Citroën before landing fifth with Mārtiṇš Sesks dropping out of the top-five fight when his Toyota stalled and half-spun twice in quick succession in sight of the SS10 finish.

Karlstad car mechanic Isak Reiersen was seventh with Miko Marczyk, Andrea Mabellini and Simone Tempestini (all in Škodas) rounding out the top 10. Johan Kristoffersson just missed out on the top-10 finishing 11th with fellow world champion and former team-mate Petter Solberg 15th.

Fiesta Rally3 driver Filip Kohn made it two wins from two ERC3 starts while Mille Johansson won Junior ERC after overnight leader Patrik Hallberg crashed.