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 wouldn’t become a factor. More rain, however, found its way onto the stages on Saturday. By the end of the weekend, 18 cars would register a DNF, including frontrunners Higgins and Drew, Ramana Lagemann and Nathalie Richard (exhaust), Limited 4WD champion Cameron Seely and co-driver and Steven Harrell (fire) and El Diablo Racing’s Matt Dickinson and Daniel Piker (broken suspension).
Even for those that finished, and finished well, the problems caused by the rough LSPR stages followed them until the very end. Grzegorz Bugaj and Elizabeth Dziubanski took home the win in the Limited 4WD, finishing fourth overall just before the engine let go after the finish line.
“Very good until we started overheating,” said Bugaj. “I think we just finished off the motor as we crossed the line. But we're here. Very happy with our result.”
Seamus Burke and Martin Brady won the competitive Open 2WD class, bringing out the popular 1977 Ford Escort MKII for LSPR. Burke-Brady finished eighth overall nationally, and took the class win by more than 1:34 ahead of Jordan Guitar and Steve Olona.
"Rough day,” said Burke at the podium. “We broke a steering arm and drove two miles on it. We were lucky enough to take a bolt out of the suspension and replace it. Tough day, but we're here."
David Wallingford and Leanne Junnila captured the inaugural RC2 Cup championship, but the LSPR win went to John Coyne and Doug Nagy at LSPR. Coyne and Nagy finished fifth overall in the McKenna Motorsports M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5.
"The stages are magnificent,” said Coyne. “It was great. Car was faultless all weekend."
Blake and Tricia Lind put an explanation on their NA4WD National Championship with the overall win at LSPR. It was their fourth win of 2019, giving them back-to-back series titles. In second place was the 1997 Subaru Impreza driven by Amanda Skelly and co-driver Jason Grizaniuk.
"The rally went really well,” said Blake Lind. “First time at LSPR for us as competitors, and it's just an awesome rally."
In regional action, Zachary Whitebread and Cameron Carr (1st - O4WD) took the overall by just two seconds over Jimmy Pelizzari and Kate Stevens (1st - NA4WD) after a late scoring change.
"It was an awesome rally.” said Pelizzari. “This is my favorite, and I think it’s probably the best with epic roads. Awesome conditions that changed throughout the night and today, and it's just been an awesome weekend!"
John and Kristin Kosmatka pushed their 2013 Subaru BRZ to third overall and a win in Limited 2WD. Jordan Locher and Thomas Addison (NA4WD) were fourth while Stephen and Katherine Gingras finished fifth.
Kevin Schmidt and Jay Anderson took home the Open 2WD class win, and Ivo Draganor and Vladimir Yanev grabbed the Limited 4WD honors. Click here for full LSPR National and Regional results.
The 2019 American Rally Association presented by AMSOIL finishes the national portion of its schedule October 25-25 at the ARA Super Regional Empire State Performance Rally. There are still two standalone regionals left on the schedule, Tour de Forest Rally November 9 and Nemadji Trail Rally December 7.