Solberg, a 17-year-old phenom, is the son of 2003 WRC champion Petter Solberg

Article originally written for Autoweek here.

It only took Oliver Solberg two rallies with Subaru Motorsports USA to score his first win in the American Rally Association championship. The young rally phenom, in his factory Subaru WRX STI, went flat-out in a high-risk drive for 130-plus miles at the DirtFish Olympus Rally to best the competition by 25.9 seconds.  Son of 2003 WRC champ Petter Solberg, Oliver, at 17 years, 7 months and 6 days, is the youngest driver to outright win an ARA event.  “It’s an amazing feeling,” said Solberg. “Winning with the classic Subaru colors and the Solberg on the side window, it’s fantastic. I couldn’t even dream about it on Friday. It’s been a fantastic race.” Based in the logging town of Shelton on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula, DirtFish Olympus Rally is one of the most widely recognized American rallies in the world. A former World Rally Championship stop, Olympus is one of the most technically challenging events on the ARA calendar. The rally, held April 27-28, covered 134 miles over 12 stages, most of which were over 10 miles in length. The event’s longest stage, the Nahwatzel, is among the longest tests in the U.S. at 20.75 miles. 

Solberg and five-time WRC rally winning co-driver Denis Giraudet battled Subaru teammates David Higgins and Craig Drew from the opening stage. The first day of competition went to Solberg, who won seven of Saturday’s eight stages. But he had some help, as Higgins lost his brakes shortly into the incredibly twisty Wildcat stage. In a stunning drive, the defending champion tossed the car sideways into corners to slow down and only dropped 27 seconds over the stage’s 18.65 miles. But those 27 seconds were the difference between winning and being runner-up. He pushed hard from the first stage on Sunday to make up the lost time. Despite Solberg wearing two tires down to the cords on his first run through the Nahwatzel stage, Higgins was unable make up the whole deficit. 13.7 seconds behind at the start of the rally’s final stage, Higgins elected to back off and secure the points for second place. “It was disappointing yesterday when we lost a lot of time, though we didn’t lose as much as we could have with the problem,” said Higgins. “And then today, of course, we had a good morning getting back into the fight again. Solberg obviously handled the pressure well and hats off to him for a perfect rally.”

Olympus is a two-day long rally of attrition. Its rough and loose gravel road surface is hard on tires and suspension components, while its deceptive technical roads harshly punish those who step even a few inches out of line. That’s a lesson that two top teams learned within 15 miles of starting the rally.  The AMSOIL Seehorn Rally Team of Jeff Seehorn and Karen Jankowski went into a tight corner a bit too hot, going wide halfway through the first stage of the rally and damaging the rear suspension of their Limited 4WD class 2015 Subaru WRX STI. They later reentered the event with a large time penalty under the Rally Restart Rule to salvage some championship points.  Not so lucky were Barry McKenna and Leon Jordan of McKenna Motorsports. The winners of last month’s 100 Acre Wood Rally also drove into a corner too quickly, but did a lot more damage in the subsequent off. An impact with a tree stump ripped a corner off the team’s 2011 M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 Turbo, ending its rally.

The early retirement for the team leaders left McKenna Motorsports with one remaining car in the top class, Seamus Burke and Martin Brady driving in their first rally in a 2018 M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5. The 4WD Fiesta is a far cry from the V6 MKII Ford Escort the pair drove to its 2018 Open 2WD class championship, and it took them some time to get up to pace. Their main challenge: building confidence in the braking performance of the WRC machine. Once comfortable in the car, Burke and Brady found themselves within striking distance of third overall and championship leaders Piotr Fetela and Dominik Jozwiak of Fetela Rally Team. The closely matched cars fought throughout the the weekend, but the ultimate advantage went to Fetela in his Proto Ford Fiesta, leaving Burke and Brady fourth overall. The third overall finish for Fetela and Jozwiak means they maintain their championship lead.  Rounding out the top five at DirtFish Olympus Rally were Cameron Steely and Preston Osborn of O.D.D. Racing. The pair drove a strong rally after finally solving the engine issues that forced them to retire from last month’s 100 Acre Wood Rally and several other events last year. 

Steely and Osborn dominated the L4 class in their 2007 Subaru WRX STI after their competition fell away due to mechanical issues or crashes. Their main fight was for a spot in the top five against Team O’Neil Motorsports driver Dave Wallingford and co-driver Leanne Junnila in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5. The two teams traded the advantage for most of the weekend until the rally’s final stage, when Wallingford suffered a flat on stage and dropped back into sixth.  Full national and regional results from the 2019 DirtFish Olympus Rally can be found here.  The ARA championship picks back up in one month’s time at the DirtFish Oregon Trail Rally. Round 4 of the of National Rally Championship Presented by AMSOIL starts at Portland International Raceway in Oregon before heading 100 miles east along the Columbia River Gorge.  For more information on the American Rally Association, head to americanrallyassociation.org. Interested in seeing the DirtFish Oregon Trail Rally for yourself? Find out how to be a spectator or volunteer for the event at oregontrailrally.com.

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