Fri 10 Feb 2023

Solberg solid on home soil in WRC2

Local star Oliver Solberg laid down the gauntlet on his return to WRC2 on Friday at Rally Sweden, building a 13sec lead over Sami Pajari.

The former Hyundai factory driver has a point to prove and he went the right way about it on the first full day of his 2023 campaign, taking three stage wins in his brand-new Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 as a number of the expected frontrunners struggled.

Reigning WRC2 champion Emil Lindholm leaked significant time on SS3 when he was forced to pull over and remove snow from the radiator of his Škoda after ploughing into a snowbank, whilst Teemu Suninen was forced to drive a stage in road mode when his Hyundai i20 Rally2 developed an engine fault.

Lindholm eventually completed a frustrating day in 11th overall, more than two-and-a-half minutes off the pace. Things were not much better for Suninen, who sat just 6.0sec ahead of his fellow Finn in 10th.

This left the door open for the battle of the 21-year-olds - Solberg and Pajari - who incidentally were both driving Toksport-prepared Škodas. Stepping up to his first full WRC2 campaign, former Juinior WRC champion Pajari began the day in fifth but was up to second by lunchtime, keeping Solberg on his toes for the remainder of the day.

Despite leading going into the day’s final service, Solberg offered a level-headed response when asked about his day: “It’s been okay. Pajari has definitely been very, very quick, hunting me down.

“I have been driving very clean with no push or risks for the entire day. I just wanted to get used to the new car on snow,” he concluded.

Returning to a Škoda at world level for the first time since 2019 – albeit in a car several generations older than those of Solberg and Pajari - Jari Huttunen was showing the same form which took him to the 2020 WRC3 title.

The Finn was consistently among the leading times throughout Friday and completed the day 35.1sec behind Solberg. He had just 1.9sec in hand over Volkwagen Polo R5 pilot Ole-Christian Veiby, who continued to charge back into contention after an early afternoon spin cost him 20sec.

Rounding out the top five was another Finn – Lauri Joona. The graduating WRC3 champion looked undeterred on stepping up to WRC2 machinery and ended the afternoon loop 27.4sec down on Veiby.

Check out the full WRC2 standings here.

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