Norwegian rally driver Oliver Solberg takes stock of his very successful 2019 and unveils his goals for 2020 in this very interesting in-depth interview. Amongst the recent milestones of the young driver, (son of 2003 World Rally Champion, Petter Solberg, one stands out above the rest.
He is the youngest-ever winner of a European Rally Championship (ERC) event at just 17 years of age and in his debut participation. Solberg achieved the feat at the Rally of Liepaja (Estonia) in May 26th.
But that is only one of the Norwegian’s driver achievements last season. Only one month and a half after (July 14th) that he made the delights of the crowds once again at the wheel of a VW Polo GTI R5 with a victory within the R5 class R5 at the Estonian Rally.
On his path to the elite of the speciality, he made his WRC debut at the Wales-Great Britain Rally, October 3- 6th. The British race was a particularly emotional one for Solberg as it coincided with his father’s farewell appointment.
The talented adolescent’s main objective is precisely to follow on the footsteps of his father at the World Rally Championship. As fast and fluent on the microphone as he is with his car, Oliver has told us the press about how he started racing and about his dreams for the future as well as sharing some amusing anecdotes.
Oliver is spontaneous and very mature for his age and he carries with surprising ease the weight of his illustrious surname. Undoubtedly his father and mother’s genes (His mother Pernilla was also an excellent race driver) have passed through to him. He is a very worthy heir of the Solberg dynasty.
The young driver from Fredrikstad will take part in at least the Rallies of Montecarlo and Sweden next year with Volkswagen. Another step that brings him closer to his dream: To shine at the World Rally Championship.
With a WRC Champion as a father (Petter) and a very talented Rally racer as a mother (Pernilla), who is the fastest of the three?
“Perhaps my mom, hehe. Well, I don’t really know because we have never been in a race together but they are both very fast and talented. I say the two of them”.
Have you ever borrowed the keys to any of your Dad’s cars?
“A lot of times! The Citroen Xsara was probably the most fun haha! He wasn’t home – I think he was in Germany – and my engineer Francois and I took it out for a run!”
Speaking about family, Carrying the surname Solberg is an advantage or a disadvantage?
“A bit of both. But I like to focus on the positive aspects, in the advantages. It is a great opportunity that has been presented to me and I want to make the most of it. In order to do that, I have to be prepared and I am working to get there”.
What were your first steps into racing and when did you realise that you wanted to do it professionally?
“I started racing in Kart Cross and soon I realised that I could be competitive. I must have been about twelve when I decided I wanted to do it professionally. A couple of years ago I switched to rallies. My true dream is to make it in the WRC” (Admits a visibly moved Oliver).
This year you have mainly driven a VW Polo GTI R5 and a Subaru WRX STI, which do you prefer?
“They are two very different cars regarding driving style and each is suited for a particular type of race. I love both. The VW Polo is a lot smaller and lighter but despite the Subaru being a lot heavier and larger it is also very fast”.
What has been your greatest sporting achievement in 2019?
“My victory at the Liepäja Rally (27th of May). I was so excited to take part in this race as part of the European Rally Championship. It was a very special race for me. It was wonderful. My first at the ERC. Very soon I felt I was very fast and very confident about the car and the team. I had a great rhythm. To win for the first time at the ERC and becoming the youngest ever driver to do so was very special for me. It was very moving.
Only two days after turning 18 you passed your driving license to take part in Rally Wales along with your father. How did that feel? Were you under a lot of pressure?
“Oh yes ufff. I remember being very very nervous two weeks before Rally Wales. I had no problem with the practical side of the driving test, I was confident and knew very well all of the driving regulations. But the theory exam was hard. I was very nervous about the questions as I needed to get most of them right. I had to study a lot”. (The driving exam in Sweden has a reputation for being one of the hardest in the world).
After passing your exam your debut coincided with the WRC and your father’s farewell race at Rally Wales. What was more emotional of the two?
“Of course, it was extremely emotional because of my father’s farewell but at the same time, I was thrilled to debut at the World Rally Championships despite the results not being quite what I expected. (He had to abandon prematurely at the SS2 after suffering a mechanical issue). In any case, I was very happy for my dad and for all of the tributes and love he received from both the public and from other drivers. It was an amazing experience in every sense”.
Your driving style seems very different from that of your dad, is that the case?
“Yes, it is true. We have very different driving styles. My dad’s is more as it was done in his time. I have learned a lot from him and he is a great inspiration but my style is softer”.
Your strengths as a rally driver are…
“I try to be fast and stay on track. I obviously want to drive fast but I want to be smart and not make mistakes. I think my main strength is that I don’t make mistakes or take unnecessary risks as well as being very consistent and reliable in my performance”.
As you are aware, Kalle Rovampera signed up with Toyota for the WRC 2020
“Oh yes, I know. I congratulated him as soon as I knew about his signing. He is one of the most talented racers of his generation. I think he can do a great job and obviously I wish him the best”.
Kalle is only a year older than you. Having already debuted in the WRC, Do you see yourself competing at the top level in the championship?
“It would be a dream come true. I am working on it but I don’t want to get there too soon, only when I am completely prepared. That is my main goal at the moment”.
What is your working schedule for 2020?
“Mi working schedule will start at Rally Montecarlo (with Volkswagen) and I will be working hard to improve during the year. We have a very exciting season ahead of us”. (He will also take part in Rally Sweden 2020). “This year I won’t take part in the USA Rally Championship.” (Where he won onboard a Subaru on his third round, the Olympus Rally, with co-pilot Denis Giraudet).
Have you got any pre-race rituals?
“Before each race, I tend to go over previous timesheets, the route and things like that. I also like to rest in order to be able to be at my best in the car.”
Are your friends scared when you drive them somewhere?
“No, most of them are drivers themselves and they all love motorsports so they are not scared about those things”.
Apart from competing, Do you go to school?
Yes. I continue my education at a French high school”.
Your parents must be really proud of you…
I hope so, hehe…
Images: Oliver Solberg´s Instagram.