A large crowd at Höljes enjoyed a dramatic and action-packed opening day of competition in round two of the 2022 FIA European Rallycross Championship at Höljes today (2 July), with Oliver Solberg ultimately emerging on top as he seeks to overturn his family’s run of bad luck at the legendary ‘Magic Weekend’.
In five World RX starts at the iconic Swedish circuit, two-time FIA World Rallycross Champion Petter Solberg reached the rostrum only once, and from 2016 to 2018, he narrowly missed out on a spot in the final three seasons in a row.
Fast forward four years, and his son Oliver – now established as a successful rallycross and rallying star in his own right – has picked up the baton, and if he was at all rusty today having not competed in the dual-surface discipline since 2020, he did not let it show.
In damp conditions following a morning downpour, the 20-year-old was on sensational form in heat one to set the pace by almost a second in the high-calibre, 25-strong Euro RX1 field – despite having never previously driven his Hedströms Motorsport Hyundai i20 in the wet – before overcoming starter motor concerns to battle his way to the third-best time in heat two.
“It was a great day overall,” he acknowledged. “I got a really clean run in the first heat – it actually felt surprisingly good – but then in the second one, I got a terrible launch and it was very strange to suddenly be in traffic for the first time in two years! The other guys are super-fast and the margins are so small, but it was really cool to be able to fight like that again – a lot of fun – and it’s fantastic to be in first place overnight.”
Solberg is two points clear of championship leader Anton Marklund – winner of the season curtain-raiser in Hungary last month – with the Swede proving himself to be every bit the equal of his illustrious adversaries by going second-fastest in both sessions as he bids to extend his advantage in the title battle this weekend.
Four-time World Champion Johan Kristoffersson sits third after engaging in a crowd-pleasing, no-holds-barred duel with fan-favourite Andreas Bakkerud in heat one and then setting the pace in heat two despite reporting a loss of power over the last two laps of his race.
Multiple Andros Trophy ice-racing king Jean Baptiste Dubourg is fourth, the Frenchman sweeping spectacularly all the way around the outside of his rivals to seize the early initiative in heat one. Sondre Evjen was a consistent contender for JC Raceteknik and lies fifth, with EKS ace Bakkerud sixth after losing time to a slow start in heat two.
Jānis Baumanis was frustrated by a spin in the second heat but nonetheless holds seventh position for #YellowSquad, just ahead of Enzo Ide, who came together with Anders Michalak at the start of heat one.
Two drivers with work to do on Sunday, however, are Nyirád finalists Ulrik Linnemann and Sivert Svardal, both of whom ran into trouble in the opening heat. The Dane ended his race in the barriers, while the Norwegian suffered broken steering that sent him into a spin.
OUTSIDERS SHINE IN EURO RX3 AND RX2e
Martin Kjaer produced a surprise in Euro RX3 to lead the way at the end of the first day of action at Höljes, benefitting from the best of the conditions in heat one before backing that up with the fifth-quickest time in heat two to cement the top spot in the overnight standings on his seasonal debut.
Rising star Marius Solberg Hansen impressed throughout to push Kjaer hardest, just a single point behind his fellow Norwegian after winning heat two, with title duellists Kobe Pauwels and Jan Černý tied on points for third. The Czech ace lost time in traffic in heat one, before the Belgian got the better of a close battle between the pair in heat two.
There was less luck, however, for free practice pace-setter Janno Ligur, who was unable to start heat one due to a broken gearbox in his Škoda Fabia and then found himself the victim of a first corner squeeze that spat him off the track at the beginning of heat two.
Viktor Vranckx had been tipped to make a strong impression on his FIA RX2e Championship debut, and he did just that at Höljes today. Under the tutelage of last year’s title-winner Guillaume De Ridder, the Belgian outpaced all of his competitors in heat one and set the second-quickest time in heat two to end proceedings ensconced at the top of the leaderboard.
Second-year drivers Nils Andersson, Isak Sjökvist and Patrick O’Donovan are in hot pursuit, with the racing set to continue tomorrow with heat three in all categories followed by the progression races, semi-finals and all-important finals.
Tune in to all of the action live on RX+. More information can be found here.