Oliver Solberg claimed his third career European Rally Championship victory on home soil in the first running of the Royal Rally of Scandinavia.
The Swede won 10 of the 16 stages over Friday and Saturday in his Toksport WRT-run Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, and finished with a victory margin of 22.5 seconds over Hayden Paddon.
Most of the drama on Saturday was contained into the first stage of the day, Tomten, with Jon Armstrong first onto the road and saying afterwards he was “creating some interesting lines in there for the rest of the guys”. He wasn’t wrong.
Ole Christian Veiby had a crash and roll, having taken ‘too much angle over a crest’, before being helped back onto the stage by spectators. He was fortunate to get his Polo significantly slowed down before it did roll, and it landed in some soft shrubbery.
Out front Paddon was fastest by 3.7s, and Solberg had his lead reduced to 7.4s as he was 2.8s slower than his rival. Solberg’s experience of the rally’s ninth stage was “***”, “really slippery” and with “no flow whatsoever”.
But the drama wasn’t over as on the next stage Frank-Tore Larsen, who had been third overnight, had a car-destroying crash after going “too far by 10cm” which he emerged from unscathed but with the rest of his rallying commitments for 2023 now under threat due to the damage done to his and his father’s Polo.
Paddon was 0.5s up on Solberg at SS10’s midway split, but then had to slow down significantly as he went past Larsen’s crash.
Solberg clipped the same ditch end as Larsen but avoided crashing, then hit “the battery for the timing [beam]” and believed he finished the stage with a front-right puncture.
However he won Tolita by a handy 5.7s over Mārtiņš Sesks, with Paddon 28.4s back. Some time later the results were changed, with Paddon given a notional time that was 0.5s faster than Solberg’s effort and reducing the lead gap to 6.9s.
The 7.08-mile Gårdsjö stage that followed used roads ‘new’ to Swedish rallying, and Solberg complained “I can’t find the rhythm whatsoever” yet went fastest by 0.3s over Paddon
The loop ended with the stage they all wanted to win: Colins. Containing the famous Colin’s Crest, there was a record at stake for who could jump the furthest on the stage.
When the crest features as part of Rally Sweden, it is taken in snowy conditions. On dry gravel, many suspected the long-standing record jump distance of 45 metres would be beaten. They were proven right.
Mads Østberg surpassed his Norwegian neighbour Eyvind Brynildsen (they live on the same street) by one metre [pictured above], ending his seven-year reign as the king of the crest.
“We had a crash course just before the start that everyone was listening to. At least I did what I told everyone else to do, because there was lots of spectators and it was fun,” said Østberg afterwards.
“It was a good line, and quite a decent exit of the corner as well. [On the second pass] hopefully we can extend with one more metre.”
Solberg meanwhile went fastest by three seconds to bring his lead back up to its start-of-day size of 10.2s.
The same four stages formed the rally’s final loop, and Solberg – who was unhappy with his driving but feeling more confident than in the morning – was fastest on the second pass of Tomten by 1.1s over Sesks.
Paddon was a further 0.6s back and admitted he was now saving his tyres for the powerstage (which awards extra points) with an eye on the title rather than rally victory.
Solberg therefore won the next two stages but there was a change back in third as Mikko Heikkilä crashed and dropped over three minutes.
“Went a bit wide in fifth gear with a high-speed corner, unfortunately there was a stone and it broke the rim, so we had to change it,” he explained.
Colins was chosen to be the powerstage, and the JERC contenders were first in.
Isak Reiersen beat Patrik Hallberg by 0.6 seconds, but he had a ten-second penalty and it meant the stage win was not enough to stop Hallberg from claiming the rally win in their class by a single second.
Next up was the rally-long battle between Kalle Gustafsson and Jon Armstrong, and despite the rear-right of his car swinging hard into a barrier at one point there was only 1.2s time loss for Gustafsson which meant he beat Armstrong to 10th by 3.4s.
Following them was Andrea Mabellini, who surprised with a 44m jump and the fastest time. Østberg reacted to that by going even faster and jumping even further, as he broke the record again with a 47m leap at Colin’s Crest.
Lauri Joona also had an answer to both, lowering the pace further and matching Østberg’s earlier record of 46m. Mathieu Franceschi outpaced Østberg, ensuring he kept seventh in the overall classification, while Nikolay Gryazin jumped 45m and lowered the pace by two seconds.
That made it look like he could make it onto the overall podium, but Sesks knew what he had to do in response and pushed the limit to outpace Gryazin and keep his third place.
Paddon collected the five points for powerstage victory with his run, edging Sesks by 1.5s and growing his points lead over him, and Solberg was third fastest to seal the rally win.