Subaru star Solberg’s stunning second in Salem
Lining up to go into the 16th and final stage of the 100 Acre Wood Rally, Oliver Solberg paused his preparations, just for a moment. He’d tightened his belts, his helmet was on and he was about to pull his gloves on when one word stopped him. It had been there all day. And the day before. But right now, it seemed to mean more than ever.
“I saw it on the dashboard and just stopped. For a moment, I thought to myself. “Yeah, this is cool…”
He’s not wrong: second overall, just 6.8 seconds off the win is more than cool.
The 17-year-old immediately settled into his first ever gravel rally in a four-wheel drive car and, of course, his first ever event driving a Subaru Motorsports USA WRX STI. Joint fastest on Friday’s opening spectator stage, Oliver and co-driver Aaron Johnston were just three seconds down on team-mate and American rally king David Higgins when they hit the dirt for the first time.
By stage five, Oliver was winning stages, showing the speed of a champion and the maturity of a seasoned professional.
He went on to win five more stages over the next day and a half of the Salem-based rally and, had it not been for losing a minute with a puncture and his bonnet – hood, according to Oliver’s new Stateside buddies – blowing up and smashing the windscreen, it could so easily have been a debut win.
Oliver will take second. This time.
“Incredible, it’s been just an incredible event. First I have to thank Subaru Motorsports USA for the opportunity to drive with them and Vermont SportsCar for building and running this brilliant WRX STI.
“What a rally this has been. Before the start, I didn’t know anything: I’d never competed in a four-wheel drive car on gravel; I didn’t know too much about the car, I knew nothing about the rally or the roads or the competition. All I could do was drive for myself. Me and Aaron, we worked really hard to make everything right on the recce and then we decided we would do our own thing and not think too much to anything or anybody else.
“When the time was there on the first gravel stage, everything changed. You keep telling yourself, stay calm and keep doing what you’re doing, but when you’re in the top three, you’re always thinking about the win. That was crazy! To be thinking to the win on my first event – but it shows how comfortable I felt with the car and the team straight away.
“The car was quite big and quite different to what I have been driving before, but the power was fantastic – I loved the power and the way the WRX STI worked. Fantastic, especially on these amazing, fast roads.
“We were quite unlucky with the puncture [in SS7] and then the hood coming on the second stage on Saturday morning. Aaron and I had no idea what was going on. As much as I love that Subaru blue, I could have done without seeing it right before my eyes all the way through the stage! It was quite tough to see, but we made it through.
“The only problem I have now is that I don’t know how I’m going to manage for the next six weeks without driving this car again. I want to start Olympus [Rally] tomorrow. Actually, not tomorrow… now!”
Oliver’s Subaru Motorsports USA team enjoyed a double podium on the American Rally Association series event, with Higgins finishing the event third after a late electrical issue with his car.
“David has been so helpful,” said Oliver. “I’m sad for him that he didn’t win, but I’m really happy to have him for my team-mate. Now we look to Olympus Rally in Washington. Like I said, I can’t wait for that one – we go there ready to be flat out and ready to push for the win.”
The watching world in Missouri couldn’t fail to be impressed with what Oliver achieved on his first outing with Subaru Motorsports USA. But nobody was prouder than mum and dad.
Petter said: “As you know, I’m quite the emotional guy and for me and Pernilla, it was a real moment to see our boy going out for his first event in that car and those colours. What he has done here is so, so impressive. And the way he’s done it, you know. So calm, so cool. He didn’t let anything, the puncture, the bonnet, nothing got to him. He just kept on driving his rally. This is a very, very good start to a new adventure for Oliver and Aaron. He made his mum and dad very happy!”
100 Acre Wood Rally
Based: Salem, Missouri
Fastest times: 6
Based: Shelton, Washington