Oliver loses his love of chocolate at Rally Mexico
Chocolate. Everybody loves it. Except Oliver Solberg. The 18-year-old’s not quite as much of a fan as he once was. Not after Friday morning, where his Rally Mexico run ended on a road just outside the village – El Chocolate – the place it was first discovered 2500 years ago.
Fifteen years on from his father Petter Solberg’s victory at Rally Mexico, Oliver arrived at his first World Rally Championship round outside of Europe looking to chase experience of the roads and a place on the WRC 3 podium come Sunday afternoon.
Before pointing his Volkswagen Polo R5 at some of the hottest gravel he has ever competed on, Oliver and co-driver Aaron Johnston had the small matter of going underground for the first time with a rally car in ‘stage’ mode.
Thursday night’s spectator-pleasing Guanajuato stage is one of the most recognisable and revered in the whole WRC. Starting from the central piazza of this World Heritage Site city, the cars go subterranean, utilising a series of tunnels which grew out of the need to export – at its height – two-thirds of the world’s silver from some of the surrounding mines.
Tens of thousands of fans regularly stand and gaze in awe as the drivers head underground at speeds they wouldn’t even consider on the motorway.
A chip off the old block, Oliver knew what the Solberg name demanded when he saw the crowds gathering to wave the crews into the stage.
“I was out of the car and waving to everybody, just like papa,” grinned the teenage sensation.
“I remember some of the stories about how cool this place is,” said the 18-year-old, “but I had no idea it was this cool. The atmosphere is just incredible. But, we don’t win the time here – we do that in Chocolate tomorrow morning.”
Despite promising no heroics, Oliver still booked fastest time on both runs at Monster Energy-backed Guanajuato tests.
“That was amazing,” he said. “It was really slippery in places and we had to take it careful, but still it was so cool to feel all of this atmosphere. As you know, we have Monster Energy as a partner with us this year, so to come out with the lead of WRC 3 is fantastic.”
Unfortunately, that feeling wouldn’t last too far into El Chocolate. Oliver was running well in the stage and looking good to retain the lead through the 31-kilometre El Chocolate test. But that early pace was bitter-sweet and all gone when a rock hit the protective sumpguard under the Polo and damaged the engine.
“It was a big rock,” said Oliver, “and the bang when it hit the car was quite loud. To retire from the event so early is so much more than disappointing. It’s really sad for me and Aaron and the whole team.”
It wasn’t possible to repair the damage to the engine and Solberg was forced out of the event on the first gravel test.
“I knew Rally Mexico would be tough,” said Oliver. “The heat, the altitude and the roughness of stages all combine to make this rally so hard. From the recce, already I was thinking this would be tougher than I thought and that’s just what happened.
“Now we focus on going home and working on the development of both the car and me. Mexico was amazing, but didn’t deliver the result we were hoping for.