Oliver Solberg made his tarmac debut in a Hyundai i20 WRC car this past weekend at Italy’s Rally di Alba, the 19-year-old came away with the Rally Victory, turning heads once more. To cap it off, he has also been confirmed as a late entry to the FIA World Rally Championship’s return to the Safari Rally Kenya (24-27 June). As weekends go, it was a good one for the ever-rising star.
“I had a lot of fun,” said Solberg. “The car is just incredible on the Tarmac. I only drove on the snow in Arctic before, so to come here and just get in the car and go at shakedown was quite something.
“I know I have a lot to learn from the car still, but coming here to Alba was such a cool way for me to drive on Tarmac for the first time. The roads are amazing, so much fun to drive – especially in a car like this one. Everything worked really well.
“The main thing was for me to take the experience and learn the car. If there was one thing I would have liked, it would have been to win a stage. I was close sometimes, but it’s tough when you are competing with a guy like Ott – he’s a world champion.
Ott Tänak would have undoubtedly been the winner of this Rally, had it not been for an infringement in parc ferme that cost him a penalty, but it was Solberg’s day. Oliver is clearly happy with the progress made in the car on asphalt and adds another bit of experience to his rapidly expanding rallying cv. The event in Alba was made equally important as Oliver missed out on his asphalt debut in the i20 WRC car at Rally Italia Sardegna earlier this month due to his father, Petter, testing positive for coronavirus.
He will be gaining even more experience at the end of June as he takes to gravel for the first time in the Hyundai i20 WRC machine at the Safari Rally Kenya, his father, 2003 WRC Champion Petter Solberg, made his WRC gravel debut at the same event, way back in 1999 finishing fifth in a Ford Focus in place of the injured Thomas Rådström. It’s almost been as long as the Rally’s absence from the WRC calendar, with this year marking a return after 19 years. Needless to say, Oliver Solberg is genuinely thrilled to be a part of it;
“Now I’m going to compete at Safari Rally Kenya. The WRC is full of incredible events in amazing places, but this is such an honour and a privilege to be doing this one.
“The WRC has been waiting for 19 years since the last Safari and to be competing with a factory World Rally Car when the sport goes back to Africa is so special. I’m always excited to be getting in a car to drive, but this is on another level now.”
Hyundai Motorsport team principal Andrea Adamo shares Oliver’s excitement, and insists that it is vital the young star enjoys himself, without any pressure;
“I am really happy that Oliver can finally make his gravel debut with the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC on gravel at Safari Rally Kenya,” said Adamo.
“We have seen at the Arctic Rally Finland that he can be very fast in the WRC car and I think he already showed what he can do, but most of all we want him to enjoy the Safari and there won’t be any pressure on him.
“I am sure we will see again some nice speed from Oliver and he will have the possibility to learn more about the car.
“I am looking forward to see him in action, we all know he is a very fast driver, who is both passionate and dedicated – I really like his approach to things and I am sure he will be able to impress again.”
Solberg’s inclusion will add another piece of drama to what is surely going to be one of the most eagerly anticipated events on this years WRC calendar. He certainly got Rally fans attention on his last WRC outing, finishing 7th overall at the Arctic Rally Finland. Time will tell if he will be just as impressive on one of the toughest events of the season.