Oliver Solberg has kickstarted his WRC2 campaign with a comfortable and controlled win on Rally Sweden, claimed by 42.3 seconds over Ole Christian Veiby.
Sami Pajari completed the podium but it was a difficult event for Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen and reigning class champion Emil Lindholm.
Solberg had used the Monte Carlo Rally to grow accustomed to his new Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 and impressed with his stage-winning times, but Sweden was the first of his seven events that would count towards his championship challenge.
And the home hero absolutely delivered on the promise. Although it was Jari Huttunen – driving an original Fabia R5 – that was quickest on the rally’s first stage and then Lindholm who charged to the front after the second, Solberg took the lead on SS3 and didn’t look back.
Both WRC2 returnee Veiby – who’d pushed eventual victor Andreas Mikkelsen all the way 12 months ago – and Toksport team-mate Pajari pushed Solberg hard through the opening day; Veiby emerging as the closest challenger before a spin dropped him back.
But Solberg always had enough in reserve and balanced the temptation to push with the need to avoid mistakes beautifully – flexing his muscles with a dominant powerstage win.
“What a great feeling, it’s been a long time since I won but finally everything works correct and I’m very happy!” Solberg, who was immediately embraced by his father Petter, said.
“It’s just a relief to finally have a win.”
A hairy fifth-gear spin for Pajari on Saturday morning allowed Veiby to overhaul the Finn into second spot, edging him by 32.8s on what’s likely to be his only WRC appearance of the season.
“We came here for the win, that was the main target after last year and then this now. But Oliver has been really, really strong this weekend and very smart also keeping it on the road,” Veiby said.
Georg Linnamäe finished fourth despite often not feeling at one with the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 he’s switched to this season, defeating fifth-placed Marco Bulacia.
Suninen came home a frustrated sixth, losing close to two minutes (and any chance of a top result) on Friday afternoon with an engine problem.
Lindholm finished up one spot behind him after pipping former Junior WRC driver Lauri Joona on the powerstage – his rally undone by getting swallowed into a snowbank and ingesting too much snow with the front of his Škoda on Friday morning which forced him to stop on the stage and clear the radiator.
In the championship, Yohan Rossel’s maximum score on the Monte Carlo Rally still keeps him at the top even though he was absent in Sweden, but Solberg has joined him on 28 points.