FIA European Rally Championship: Solberg debuts and wins, Lukyanuk finishes second

The Rally Liepaja 2019 ended with the victory of the young Norwegian Oliver Solberg. Russians Alexey Lukyanuk and Alexey Arnautov took the second position, losing 22 seconds to the 17-year-old driver, who debuted in the FIA European Rally Championship overall standings.

Unlike the previous European Championship rounds, the Latvian event took place on a very tight schedule – one and a half days were given for the recce (12 hours on the first day and eight on the second) and two racing days were given to the crews to fight at 13 special stages. The rally was divided into two parts in terms of territory: the first day was spent in the vicinity of Talsi, and the second one – around Liepaja. So the total distance was almost 1000 kilometers, only 200 of them accounted for special stages.

Quite strong young drivers have joined the fight on the European series gravel tracks; and several crews fought for leadership on the tracks of Latvia. Among them there were Latvian Martins Sesks, who debuted in the R5 vehicle, Briton Chris Ingram, Japanese Hiroki Arai, Russian Alexey Lukyanuk and Norwegian Oliver Solberg – son of the famous world driver Petter Solberg. Of the 50 crews that started in the FIA European Championship, it was these five drivers who challenged each other for the seconds, constantly changing on the first position after each special stage.

Young Oliver Solberg applied for leadership at the very first special stage; the son of the world rally champion drove the VW Polo. In general Solberg junior performs in various racing series and the FIA European Championship round became another training ground on the way to finding his speed.

Oliver won four of the five special stages on Saturday; Alexey Lukyanuk in the Citroen C3 R5 finished first at the longest of them –  Ramirent (28 km). By the first day results Lucas was 9.7 seconds behind Solberg.

Alexey Lukyanuk, “It was not an easy day. There was a late rise at 7:30 am and a long liaison to Talsi. At the first special stages we lost a lot because of not very good settings. This is our second race on gravel; we continue to improve Citroen and are looking for the necessary settings. After the day service, when we went to the second section of the day, I felt that we were much closer to the desired “setup” – we went well. The competitors, of course, also travel fast, but at least the internal feelings have improved. In general, looking at the entry list – 19 R5 class cars – we expected serious resistance from the local guys and youngsters. So it has happened. This rally is familiar for us, but the car and tyres are unfamiliar so far. Therefore, we cannot go 100% now, expecting more surprises from ourselves”.

The second day special stages were located in the vicinity of Liepaja that rightfully bears the title of “the most rally city” of Latvia – competitions in this kind of motor sport are held several times a year here.

On Sunday Lukyanuk won two of seven special stages, while the young Solberg dominated the rest of them. According to Oliver, he carefully prepared for this rally and, as he admitted at a press conference after the ceremonial podium, “I’ve watched all onboards of Lucas from all his performances in Latvia, because I really like his driving style and speed”.

The whole day driving style was different from the aggressive move of the previous one, Alexey tried to avoid unnecessary risk – the Citroen C3 R5 is just beginning its rally journey and has not yet revealed all the possibilities and potential inherent.

Alexey Lukyanuk, driver, “The day went ok, but there were some nuances. We had to stop on the road section to fix the brakes – the pedal was too soft. The time for liason was small as the average speed was higher then 60kmh including refuel, tire marking and multiple inhabited areas, with 50kmh speed limit. If you have no repairs or no tire change, then you just hardly arrive on time. We’ve checked that on the second loop. So we spend 15 minutes to fix the brakes and had to keep average well over 100kmh to be on schedule. In a rush we have exceeded in several points excessively and it was measured by gps. So we got penalty. We are really sorry for this situation, but the time allowed was not enough even for tire change. It was Sunday morning with no traffic so we increased our speed. I understand that I broke the speed limit, but it is really hard to be under pressure when you can loose the position and the team relies on you.

According to the rally results, Alexey Lukyanuk and Alexey Arnautov were able to hold the second position in the overall standings and restrain the onslaught of Martins Sesks, who was advancing on the heels. The Rally Liepaja 2019 spoilt the game and added new actors to the fight for the title: Oliver Solberg, gaining maximum points for the weekend, immediately settled in the fourth position of the drivers intermediate classification – 39 points. Alexey Lukyanuk is the third due to the second place at the Latvian round. The second position is still held by Chris Ingram, and Lukasz Habaj remains on the first one. 

The fourth round of the FIA European Championship will be held 28-30 June in Poland, on gravel tracks in the vicinity of Mikolajki.