Solberg leads Royal Rally thriller in Sweden

After a day measured in tenths of seconds, Oliver Solberg heads Hayden Paddon by just 3.3 in Sweden

Solsta Foto

Oliver Solberg takes a 3.3-second lead into Saturday’s final day of the Royal Rally of Scandinavia after a frantic Friday at the front of the latest European Rally Championship round.

The Škoda driver has spent the first half of the event locked into a battle with defending European champion Hayden Paddon. The Hyundai New Zealand star led after Thursday’s rally opening superspecial on the outskirts of Karlstad, but last year’s Royal Rally winner Solberg took a narrow advantage as soon as the competition hit the woods, first thing on Friday morning.

Paddon hit back with consecutive stage wins to arrive at lunchtime service just 1.4s behind the leader.

It was more of the same through the afternoon, with neither driver able to break free and make any advantage of any significance. While Solberg led overnight, it was Paddon who enjoyed the spoils from the longest flight (44 meters) over Colin’s Crest second time through.

Hayden Paddon

Paddon matched Solberg throughout Friday's stages. The Hyundai New Zealand star is just 3.3s off the lead

“It’s been a fairly crazy fight today,” said second-placed Paddon. “We’ve pushed on every stage – every one of them was like a qualifying stage! The afternoon was a bit more difficult, it wasn’t so good in the ruts, but tomorrow’s stages should suit the car a little bit more.”

That was precisely leader Solberg’s thinking.

“You know me,” he smiled, “I’m never completely happy. The gaps are so small, everything counts today. In the last one I thought I had a puncture, the car was moving a little bit. To be honest, I wasn’t very impressed with today – but the fight is close and tomorrow should suit us. We will take a bit of a push tomorrow.”

It wasn’t just the top two positions which were closely fought. After a day comprising a shade over 50 miles of competition, seventh-placed former world rally winner Mads Østberg was still less than half a minute off the lead – just 27.8s separated his Citroën and Solberg’s Fabia.


Heikkilä enjoyed a stellar afternoon to power his GR Yaris Rally2 into the top three

Top Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 runner Mikko Heikkilä enjoyed a good morning and a great afternoon as he rocketed up the leaderboard from sixth to an overnight third, posting an unbeaten time on the second run through the Bondestad stage.

“I don’t remember when a rally was this close,” said Heikkilä. “We wanted to be at our maximum today and we’ve done that. Tomorrow’s going to be just as close, so we have to keep this speed.”

The Finn is 9.4 down on Paddon and 4.2 up on Mathieu Franceschi (Škoda). The championship leader’s event got off to a miserable start when he stalled at the start of the Thursday night opener. A storming drive in SS8 eased him into fourth, with both Mārtinš Sesks and Frank Tore Larsen in close attendance in fifth and sixth, ahead of Østberg in seventh.

Isak Reirsen made it two Swedes in the top eight after a confidence-inspiring run for the 20-year-old Fabia driver, with Miko Marczyk (Škoda) and Eyvind Brynildsen (Volkswagen) rounding out the top 10.

Petter Solberg

Out of the car for five years, 2003 World Rally Champion Petter Solberg has been enjoying himself on Friday

World champions Johan Kirstoffersson and Petter Solberg ended Friday 16th and 19th in their respective Polos. The former dropped out of the top-10 after he backed off in the day’s final stage, fearing he’d damaged his car. Solberg Sr was enjoying his run, but struggled to get back up to speed with the pace notes after five years out of the car.

Filip Kohn heads fellow Fiesta Rally3 driver Tristan Charpentier by 3.2s in a super-close ERC3 fight while Patrik Hallberg (Peugeot) leads Swedish countryman Mille Johansson (Opel) for ERC Junior. Early series leader Max McRae went off the road on the second stage.