Oliver Solberg scored victory on the first rally event held in Sweden for several months, Rally Sweden Lockdown, edging out erstwhile M-Sport World Rally Championship driver Pontus Tidemand for the win.
Rally Sweden Lockdown, organized by the same team responsible for the nation’s WRC event which took place in February, featured six domestic drivers based in Rally2-specification machinery, taking place on the same 2.5-kilometre Torsby Sprint stage which features on the WRC itinerary.
High-profile drivers from host country Sweden featured on the entry list including Solberg, son of 2003 World Rally champion Petter Solberg, 2017 WRC2 champion Tidemand and World Rallycross and DTM champion Mattias Ekström.
That trio were joined by Emil Bergkvist as the four main challengers for victory in the shootout-style rally sprint, which after an set of initial qualifying runs then followed a knockout format.
Solberg, driving the Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 he uses in WRC3 and won the Latvian national championship with last year, had been fastest in qualifying and then trumped Ekström in their semi-final to set up and all-Värmlander final against Tidemand.
Despite Tidemand’s extra years of R5 experience it was Solberg who went fastest in the final, securing victory by 1.1 seconds.
“All the best drivers in Sweden are here and you always want to win,” said Solberg.
“We were fast straight away in the morning, and took it a little safer in the semi-finals to save the tires and avoid punctures. We gave it everything in the final and pushed hard, though we made a small mistake we took it in the end.”
Solberg’s mother Pernilla was in the co-driver’s seat during Oliver’s victory but hadn’t been sure she would be up to the task come race day, having suffered from car sickness during pre-event testing on Saturday.
“It was a very nice Sunday trip! A huge thanks to all who made this possible. I felt really bad on the test yesterday, but the competition today went really well”.
Tidemand was unsurprisingly feeling the effects of not driving for several months.
“We did what we could,” said Tidemand. “It’s been three months since we sat in the car, so it felt a bit unusual. But we got in to the pace pretty quickly. We did what we could and put a good fight to Oliver in the final.”
Ekström meanwhile faced off against his team-mate Bergkvist, who had lost to Tidemand in his own semi-final. Bergkvist, who was rallying for the first time since last year’s Rally Portugal, triumphed in what was an especially fair fight given both were sharing exactly the same Fabia R5 evo and swapping drivers between runs.
Twice Junior WRC champion PG Andersson was also expected to be amongst the front-runners in his Ford Fiesta R5. But his participation in the rally was short-lived, rolling his Fiesta over at the crest of the long left-hander inside the quarry section of the stage in his very first qualifying run.
Though he was able to drive away after his car had been turned back on its wheels by a forklift, a damaged intercooler ruled him out of the rest of the rally, his team lacking the required spare parts to attempt an otherwise achievable fix.
Jonna Eson Bråhde, who finished third in the Swedish national championship’s R2 class in 2018 completed the field in her Mitsubishi Mirage R5.
She qualified fifth, half a minute off the pace, and was eliminated from the knockout phase of the rally by Ekström in the event’s only quarter final.
Though Solberg was victorious there were no crowds to celebrate in front of, with the event closed to spectators as a safety measure during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The rally was instead shown on television by national broadcaster SVT, while extra distance was placed between service areas for each competitor and quotas were enforced on the number of staff present to run the rally.