Oliver Solberg sealed back-to-back victories on Rally Liepaja, the second round of the European Rally Championship, fending off Citroën’s Mads Østberg despite a late scare with his engine.
Last year’s winner had built a 22.4 second lead heading into the final loop of the rally but immediately faced a scare, as his engine dropped to three cylinders for the first four miles of Vecpils.
But the engine problem remedied itself thereafter, with Solberg’s Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 back at full power and dropping only 5.3s to Østberg.
Once back on the pace, he won the final two stages despite tire wear making it “feel like I was driving in rear-wheel-drive”.
“The first half of the first stage [of this loop] I was on three cylinders, then after the second half the engine started working again and I started pushing like mad to catch up the time again,” said Solberg.
“I was very lucky.”
Østberg banked second place on his first event since Rally Sweden in February, keeping ERC points leader and fellow Citroën pilot Alexey Lukyanuk at bay.
With Østberg not registered for ERC points, Lukyanuk was content to pick up second-placed points for his overall podium finish, especially as a delaminated tire on Vecpils meant he was even slower than Solberg on three cylinders.
Eerik Pietarinen was untroubled on his way to fourth place, as a 23.8s advantage over Team MRF’s Craig Breen was simply too much for the factory Hyundai driver to overcome.
Breen banked the second-fastest time on Vecpils behind Østberg, but a mistake at a chicane on Tebra cost him a few seconds and ended any chance of catching Pietarinen.
Having suffered a puncture on the first pass of Paplaka in the morning, Breen hadn’t driven the stage at full speed and nearly lost fifth to his MRF team-mate Emil Lindholm, who ended the rally only 1.8s behind in sixth.
Lindholm had been battling Lukyanuk for fourth earlier in the rally but went wide over a jump and ended up in a field on Sunday morning, sending him back to sixth.
Grégoire Munster capped his first Rally Liepaja in a Rally2 car with seventh place, nearly half a minute behind Lindholm but able to hold a steady gap to Mikko Heikkilä behind in eighth.
Reigning ERC3 Junior champion Efrén Llarena picked up ninth place ahead of fellow Saintéloc driver Sean Johnston, who completed the top 10.
Johnston and co-driver Alex Kihurani, the only Americans in the field, climbed form 14th to 10th over the course of Sunday, picking off Raul Jeets on Tebra and finishing 9.3s up on the old-generation Škoda Fabia driver.
Ken Torn scored a second consecutive win in ERC3, again benefiting from an issue for his main event rival.
Last month in Rome a last-stage crash for Pedro Antunes handed Torn an unexpected win. This time Mārtiņš Sesks nosedived over a jump and broke the radiator on his Ford Fiesta Rally4, retiring from the lead on the road section between Vecpils and and Tebra.
That gave Torn a clear path to victory, 49.8s clear of his Orsák Rally Sport team-mate Dennis Rådström in second.
2018 European Rallycross Champion Reinis Nitišs rounded out the ERC3 podium, resisting a late comeback from Gregor Jeets in a 2019-spec Fiesta.
Nitišs had pulled 16.7s clear of Jeets midway through the Sunday morning loop but very nearly lost third on the final stage of the rally, as Jeets fell only 2.2s short of taking his podium place.
Tibor Érdi Jr scored victory in ERC2 despite mirroring Solberg in having a late scare with his engine.
Érdi held a commanding lead in the production class after Sunday’s midday service but like Solberg also had his car drop to three cylinders on Vecpils. Unlike with Solberg, the problem didn’t go away.
A two minute gap built up over the first seven stages of the rally was enough to see him through to first place despite his engine issue, finishing 58s ahead of Ainars Igaveņš.
Final results after SS10
1 Solberg (Volkswagen) 1h27m23.0s
2 Østberg (Citroën) +20.1s
3 Lukyanuk (Citroën) +37.2s
4 Pietarinen (Škoda) +1m34.1s
5 Breen (Hyundai) +1m51.3s
6 Lindholm (Škoda) +1m53.1s
7 Munster (Hyundai) +2m19.7s
8 Heikkilä (Škoda) +2m35.9s
9 Llarena (Citroën) +3m23.2s
10 Johnston (Citroën) +3m48.1s