Houghton, Mich. ~ Oliver Solberg was thrust upon the American rally scene last January. The then seventeen-year-old son of a former WRC World Champion was tabbed to be the number two driver for Subaru Motorsports USA for six rounds of the 2019 American Rally Association season. The idea: get the young Norwegian enough quality seat-time, while learning from and challengingn defending ARA champion and teammate David Higgins.
By the time the series finale Lake Superior Performance Rally (LSPR) rolled around, Solberg had found more than enough quality seat time, and with two wins already under his belt, was considered Higgins biggest challenger to date. At LSPR, Solberg continued upon his upward trajectory by limiting his mistakes, driving fast and winning his third ARA national of the season.
"I have to say it's very nice to end the season with a win, it's fantastic,” said Solberg. “The weekend didn't start off perfectly, and I had to get used to the car again, which took four or five stages to get used to it. Then we showed good speed and it was good fun for us as well. End the season on a high."
After eight rounds, Higgins had wrapped up his tenth U.S. rally championship and second straight ARA title while Co-Driver Craig Drew notched championship number eight. With the titles secured, the only thing left was to put an explanation point on their 2019 season. They were well on their way, winning the first four stages and holding a 14-second leader over Solberg and Co-Driver Aaron Johnston. But in a blink of an eye, their day came to a sudden halt after the number one car stalled out and slid into a tree stump, damaging the suspension.
“It’s disappointing not to end the season with the performance we wanted, especially here at LSPR where we’ve won in the past, but I’m very proud to have earned my tenth title,” said Higgins after the event on Subaru.com. “We put together strong events when we needed to, and lots of credit to Craig and the rest of the team for all their hard work this year as well.
Securing a second-place podium, and locking up second overall in the national championship brought forth some uneasy moments for Barry McKenna and Co-Driver Andrew Hayes. They were having a great rally, keeping pace with the cars out front and holding off Piotr Fetela and Dominik Jozwiak. But drivetrain troubles meant some major scrambling during the final service. The team only persevered and only incurred a 30-second penalty, and was able to stay in the rally, finishing second.
"The last three stages were cruel,” said McKenna. “We lost power steering on the first stage after service. We also couldn't put it in stage mode because we lost the wastegate pipe before service, and after the gearbox change in that service. But we got to the end."
After winning the season opener at Sno-Drift in January, Fetela and Jozwiak were looking to cap off their 2019 campaign with another podium. He entered LSPR tied with McKenna for second overall. In the end, they got the podium they were looking for, but Solberg’s win was enough to knock them out of the top three overall for the season.
“Good weekend. Absolutely good weekend,” said an emotional Fetela after the final stage. “I didn't expect third place, but I'm kind of unhappy because we just missed the podium for the championship. Anyway, a very good season for us. Before we started, I didn't even know we were going to get this far, so that's good. Thank you to everybody, all the fans, the family, all the sponsors and partners, Dominik, the whole crew! Thank you! A good season!"
LSPR can become a fickle beast, especially on day two. The 61 cars that entered the rally were hoping that the rainy weather that fell earlier in the week