Oliver ready for the challenge of the Monte!
Rallye Monte-Carlo is the oldest rally in the world. Naturally, things have changed a fair bit since it ran for the first time in 1911, but the concept’s still pretty similar: it’s about a bunch of cars driving through the French Alps, trying to work out who’s fastest.
Monster Energy-backed 18-year-old Oliver Solberg is taking to the hills high above the French Riviera for the first time next week.
Starting from Monaco’s world-famous Casino Square on Thursday (January 23) afternoon, the crews waste no time in getting to some of the season’s most complicated and challenging stages. The itinerary dictates the photographs and adulation of the principality will be followed by the 17.47-kilometre test from Malijal to Puimichel.
Two nighttime stages take Oliver and his co-driver Aaron Johnston back north to the service park in Gap, where the next two days are based. After Friday and Saturday in the Hautes-Alpes, it’s another trip south to the harbourside in Monte Carlo. Sunday’s final day comprises two stages run twice, one of which is arguably the most famous test in the history of the series. The road from La Bolléne-Vésubie to Piera Cava might not be instantly recogniseable, but the name of the mountain pass over which that road passes mostly certainly is. It’s the Col de Turini.
The switchback Alpine stages are just part of the challenge of Rallye Monte-Carlo. The other part comes in the shape of ever-changing weather and meteorological microclimates which deliver widely differing grip levels from one corner to the next.
Driving a Volkswagen Polo R5 run by his family’s team, Oliver will experience dry and wet asphalt, ice, snow, slush and just about everything in between this week. And, what’s more, because of the compromised tyre choice, he can just about guarantee he’ll be on the wrong tyre much of the time.
Get through and an appointment with Prince Albert II awaits you outside his Palace on a Sunday afternoon. Get through faster than anybody else and you become a member of an exclusive and distinguished band of motorsport heroes. You become a Monte Carlo winner.
Q&A with Oliver
Rallye Monte-Carlo’s waiting. How do you feel?
OS: It’s so exciting. I know I have been excited a lot by things in the last 12 months – competing in a Subaru in the same colours as my father in America, making my debut in the WRC with him in Wales, becoming the youngest driver ever to win a round of the FIA European Rally Championship – but this is reallyspecial. It’s Monte Carlo!
How much do you know about the event?
OS: I know it’s tough. One of the toughest. My Dad has told me a lot of stories about how difficult the rally will be. Because of the way rallies run, we have to choose our tyres for a loop of stages really early. Really early in the morning, we’ll be deciding on the tyres we’re still going to be using at lunchtime – you have to try to understand what the weather’s going to do.
It’s a gamble?
OS: It’s a big gamble – starting in the casino!
How was your test?
OS: Good. We drove near to Sisteron, where we were able to find some snow and ice. It’s so important to test in a place like this; it’s really important for me to get the feeling of what the car’s going to be doing when it’s on the wrong tyres. In a test like this, it’s a lot about preparing for the worst kind of situation. We did that.
What’s the key to Rallye Monte-Carlo?
OS: You’re asking me? Honestly, I don’t know for myself. I will find out next week. I think the biggest thing is to be comfortable in the car and to be able to find confidence. If you have those two things then you can deal a little bit more easily with what’s coming. If you go to this rally with a racing car set-up, ready to push hard then it’s easy to have some trouble.
What’s your approach?
OS: To take experience. This rally is so specific – we get one chance each season to come to Rallye Monte-Carlo and to build up some ideas and some knowledge of what the roads can be like and how the pacenotes work. This is the priority for me. I’m really not so worried about the times or the speed or anything like that, I just want to get to the end of the stages and keep building my experience.
You’re not competing in WRC 2 or WRC 3 in Monte Carlo, what’s the reason for that?
OS: I know this rally is going to be complicated. I never did anything like this before. Even if the roads are all dry, I still have done virtually nothing really on Tarmac. OK, we have some snow at home, but we have nothing like the Monte stages. For this time, I don’t want any pressure or anything, I want to go to this rally, enjoy it and make the experience.
Finally, you lived in Monaco for a while – do you remember much about that time?
OS: I do. It was a really cool place to live and the sun was always shining. The only problem with Monaco is that there wasn’t really enough space. When we moved back to the farm in Sweden, I could get out and about on the quadbikes and snowmobiles – there wasn’t much chance of doing that in Casino Square!
Competitive distance: 304.28km (189.07 miles)
Total distance: 1505.64km (935.60 miles)