INTERVIEW: Oliver Solberg

INTERVIEW: Oliver Solberg

Rallying

INTERVIEW: Oliver Solberg

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Oliver Solberg on the eve of the 2022 FIA World Rally Championship season opening Rally Monte Carlo: ‘It is a dream come true for me to be joining a factory team for the first time. I am very excited; it’s just fantastically cool to be starting this new season.”

The 20 year-old son of 2003 World Rally Champion Petter Solberg will spend this season at the wheel of the Hyundai i20 N WRC Hybrid. Monte Carlo proved to be something of a struggle and ended with the car being retired, but next week he gets back in the saddle for Rally Sweden.

“The Rally Sweden will be big for me,” said Solberg of the 19-stage rally, which is entering its 69th year. “Especially since it will be my first time as a factory driver and it will be in my home country. I mean, this is fantastic. It is a really cool opportunity, and it is something I have dreamed of my whole life. It is definitely really cool. There has been a lot of media calling and wondering what I am doing and how I am preparing. For sure they have expectations of me, but it is just awesome to be doing it at home, you know? It’s such a cool opportunity.”

Retired from the Monte Carlo due to a combination of bad luck and mechanical gremlins, Solberg is relieved the have the event behind him.
“Yeah, I think the rally caused mixed emotions for the whole team,” admitted Solberg. “I don’t think anyone in the team was thrilled with the result and completely happy. It just wasn’t the result that we wanted. Unfortunately, I had a lot of issues with the car, and I had to retire in the end. I think speed-wise we were quite okay. We had good improvements and I felt quite confident at a few points.

“The driving felt quite good and so on, but the car was so new and we didn’t have any time to prepare. It’s okay. It is all part of the learning curve. I’m the third driver. I’m there to gain experience and the other two drivers are there to win the championship, so that’s the difference between all of us. I’m there to help and to support the team.”

As part of the works Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT program, Solberg is teamed with Ott Tanak, Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo.

“I’ll do the majority of the rallies this season,” said Solberg. “For sure, it will be a big program. It’s a challenge to do every single event. Even if it is a bit of a mix between a third and a fourth car, or if it is a mix between the category beneath the bigger class, the plan is definitely to do the majority of the rallies in the third car. For sure I will have a lot of events. And there are events like Monte Carlo, which is a typical event where you just try to get mileage and experience. Now, this upcoming rally in Sweden will be more about trying to get some good results.

“Every round for me will depend on a bit of experience and then trying to get some results. It’s a bit of a mix this season. It’s trying to get some good results when I feel confident. In the events that I have done before, I am trying to do as good as I can and trying to show my speed. I’ve shown that my speed is good, but I also think it is good to keep pushing all of the time. Then at some events it is just to get through them and to get experience. As I said, it’s a mix and I’m hoping to get a lot of experience from the races that I’ve never done. And then from the races that I’ve done before, I’m hoping to get some good results.”

The Solbergs proved to be a potent force for Team Norway at Race of Champions, but next week Swede-Norwegian Oliver will get to race for his ‘other’ home country as a factory WRC driver.

Sitting in a comfortable sofa and enjoying the fire roaring in the massive living room fireplace, former Petter Solberg smiled on. When asked about his father, Oliver did all of the talking.

“He’s excited,” said Oliver Solberg, nodding over to his father. “For sure he is excited. Right now he’s sitting here on the sofa! We are super-excited as a family. Speaking of family, winning the 2022 Race of Champions together with him this year was just amazing. It’s cool to be able to do some things together, which is so special. To win that Race of Champions was crazy! I mean, Jimmie Johnson was racing. He’s a driver that I’ve been looking up to, and Colton, he’s my age. It was a mix of youthful and older drivers and youthful and older generations.

“It was cool to race against America in the finals. They were such good drivers and we knew that it was going to be tough. Even if we had a small advantage with ice and snow, I knew it was going to be tough because they adapted so quickly. It was just great to drive against all of these legends and to be able to meet them and all of them were so friendly. Everyone had respect for each other and it was just an awesome event. And to win it! It was crazy!”

The World Rally Championship is powering into a new electrified era, and Hyundai Motorsport has been keen to slot Solberg into its highly talented driver lineup as well as its new electronic future. 

“Hyundai is a huge organization,” said Solberg,. “The Hyundai WRC team is a big part of the whole program worldwide. WRC is Hyundai’s only official program, so it is a huge thing to be a part of, and to be able to build a relationship together with the Koreans has been excellent. They are super-nice people, and then combined together with this WRC program, it is an honor to be involved. It’s a long-term plan together, and they want me to be world champion with them. That’s my plan and what I want, as well. It’s all about building these relationships, and it’s going well. In the near future it is about trying to get some speed and to trying to build on that. As my first year inside this big team, it’s trying to build relationships and trying to build confidence with everybody. For the future, the long term plan is to be world champion with Hyundai.”

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