Solberg stuns the WRC with his Arctic Rally Finland performance
Oliver Solberg a sensational seventh on World Rally Car debut
Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC driver sets six top-five times from 10 stages
19-year-old stuns WRC service park with immediate speed and consistency
“I am smiling more than I ever did before!”
Teenage rally sensation Oliver Solberg delivered a spellbinding dream drive to seventh place on his debut aboard a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC at Arctic Rally Finland.
A final-stage spin meant the 19-year-old missed out on a top-six position by just 1.2 seconds, but the supersonic Swede had still gone above and way beyond what the service park had predicted.
The Monster Energy driver was quick to thank Hyundai Motorsport Team Principal Andrea Adamo for the opportunity to make the step up to the WRC’s top flight.
“I don’t think I actually have the words to tell you how this feels,” said Oliver. “It’s really unbelievable and the biggest thing I did in my career. To Andrea, to everybody in Hyundai Motorsport and to the 2C [Compétition] team I just want to say thank you. We are in the home town of Santa Claus – I think he gave me a fantastic present!
“When Andrea talked about me doing this event, I was so excited. But at the same time I was wondering a little bit in my mind, what will happen? How will it be?”
Oliver answered those questions with some emphatic and quite astonishing speed. Having taken a couple of runs at shakedown to build his understanding of the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, he was bang on the pace and fourth fastest overall as early as the second stage. First thing Saturday morning, he went one better and bagged a top-three stage time.
“I knew it would be complicated to understand the aero,” said Oliver. “But I was quite confident I would be happy at this speed. I didn’t expect to make these sort of times quite so early in the rally. It was just so much fun. Before the rally Andrea was telling me there was no pressure and I had to make sure I was smiling. I am smiling more than I ever did before now.
“The Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC was fantastic to drive, so much grip, so much power and just so incredible to drive. When I was in the car and really in the middle of the event, I was just driving and not thinking so much to what everything really meant. But when I was between the stages and we were stopping behind [Sébastien] Ogier to change wheels and work on the car before the stage, I did stop a little bit and think: “Wow! This is just incredible – I’m here and I’m fighting with the world champion!”
“Of course I understand Séb had a difficult place on the road and that cost him some time on Friday, but it was very cool to be racing with him. He’s a cool guy.
“There were a couple of times when I was a little bit frustrated, like in the last stage. I made a spin near the finish and that cost me sixth place. Sixth would have been nice, but I will take this result – in the top five on six stages out of 10. This is so much more than I could have dreamed of. It’s amazing. It’s unbelievable.”
In the middle of their celebrations, Oliver was quick to remember a driver close to the heart of the Solberg family.
“It was so sad to hear the news that Hannu [Mikkola, 1983 World Rally Champion] had passed away on Saturday,” said Oliver. "He was an amazing man – he was a legend for our sport and it makes me proud to make my debut and this result in his home country.”
Adamo was pleased with his protégé’s incredibly rapid progression.
The Italian said: “I guess he enjoyed it a lot. I think he has had an amazing rally, much better than what everyone expected.
“I think he did what we asked him to do – to enjoy, to enjoy it in the end. But in the end, I think he enjoyed to spin a bit in the snow. It’s good you know, I think he gave us all a breath of fresh air that is needed in the WRC world. So it’s good.”