Interview: Oliver Solberg

Interview: Oliver Solberg

“This year is the most important of my career. It’s a season where I as a driver, and my team together, can get a lot of experience at almost all of the World Rally Championship rounds. It’s going to be like a dream for me. Driving in the world championship is all I ever wanted to do.”

18 year-old World Rally Championship challenger Oliver Solberg weighing in from the 2020 WRC Rally Guanajuato Mexico. Son of 2003 World Rally Champion Petter and mother Pernilla Walfridsson – also a former rally competitor – Solberg, the 2019 Latvian Rally Champion and third-place finisher in the 2019 American Rally Championship was, literally and figuratively, born into the sport.

“Yeah, I was born into it,” declared Solberg from the base of the Sierra de Lobos and Sierra de Guanajuato mountains. “I did a year in America last year, actually. My dad used to be world champion in rally and he’s been rallying for over 25 years, so rallying is in our blood. It’s hard to not do rally in this family. And my mom, she was also a rally driver. She was Norwegian champion and she was very good. When she became pregnant with me, she had to stop, unfortunately. She got me into driving so I think this is okay!”

Although it is first time competing in the 24-stage WRC Rally Guanajuato, the Solberg surname is already well-known in Mexico, as Petter won the 2005 Rally Mexico in a Subaru Impreza Rally 2005. This time around, the younger Solberg is set to compete in the WRC2 classification.

“We are in Mexico right now and actually preparing the rally car after two days of testing,” explained Solberg. “I’ll be competing in the second-biggest class. Right now, WRC is the biggest. It’s like Formula 1. Then you have WRC2, which is like Formula 2 in the formula classes. It’s the second biggest class in the sport now, and the class I’ll compete in here.”

Oliver ran the 2019 American Rally Championship in a Subaru Motorsports USA Impreza STi. Done up in the same classic blue and gold Subaru livery his father ran from 2000 to 2008, the younger Solberg won the 2019 Olympus Rally.

Solberg is using WRC2 to ramp up his experience on WRC courses.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “It was very different compared to rallying in Europe. The roads and the atmosphere in America are fantastic. It was a dream come true and for sure driving for Subaru Motorsports – that was the team my dad got a world championship with – it was very cool to be able to drive with the Subaru colors. It was very emotional for the whole family.”

Solberg has previously said that 2020 is the most important year of his rally career. Prompted, he quickly doubled-down on the sentiment.

“Well, it could be the most important year because it’s the first time in the World Rally Championship for me, Solberg explained. “Okay, I’m not driving for Subaru this year, but this is my first time in the World Championship, so it’s a big deal. It’s a season where I as a driver, and my team together, can get a lot of experience at almost all of the World Rally Championship rounds. It’s going to be invaluable for my future career, making the step up at this level. We’ll get to maximize time in the car, learn a lot in terms of driving, technical aspects, and push ourselves at this high level of competition.”

No question marks over Solberg’s rally genes: his mother won a Norwegian national title; father Petter (above) was WRC champion in 2003. Image by LAT

“I’m just going to try and do some good results. It’s my first time in the World Championship against guys who have done it for so many years, so for me, I just want to try and get a lot of experience and to get up to speed as fast as possible, and I’d like to try and win some races. That would be nice. It takes a lot of experience. Rallying is so much more than just driving. You have the pace notes that describer the roads, and most everybody knows the roads so well. It’s just about experience and it takes many, many years, but that’s what I’m here for – the experience and to get ready for the future.”

Petter, the first Norwegian driver to ever win the World Rally Championship and a veteran of the Ford, Subaru and Citroen works teams, is considered one of the WRC’s all-time legends, a gravel sweeper who has thrilled rally the fans the world over. For a driver just getting started as a professional, how do father and son get along?”

“My dad and I always get along,” said Solberg. “You know how it is with the dad and the kid… We get along good, and we are so passionate about the sport. There are so many great rally drivers to look up to. You have so many of them throughout the years. My dad, for example, is a great driver to me. You have Tommi Makinen. There are so many drivers that you can look up to, especially from the World Championship. There is Colin McRae, who was a huge inspiration to me as well.”

Solberg, who will guide a Volkswagen Polo GTI in Mexico later this week, was unabashed about his lifetime goal of becoming a World Rally Champion.

“Yeah, a World Championship is, for sure, one of my biggest dreams,” he smiled. “This year is all about gaining experience to try and be a World Champion in the future. I want to be World Champion in the biggest class one day.”