Solberg set for Tarmac debut in Rome
Eighteen-year-old Oliver makes his full asphalt debut at Rally di Roma
Oliver returns to PA Racing to run a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 in Italy
Rally Sweden Lockdown winner looking to take Tarmac experience from Rome
Oliver Solberg has won at the highest level of European and American rallying, but that success has always been on gravel. Later this month, the 18-year-old Monster Energy-backed driver will make his debut on asphalt when he tackles Rally di Roma Capitale.
Fortunately for Oliver, he enjoyed the benefit of a couple of days with one man who knows a thing or two about driving on asphalt. In 2018, Sébastien Loeb worked with Oliver to show him the ropes on Tarmac.
“To drive on Tarmac is really different to the gravel or the snow,” said Oliver, who will drive a PA Racing Volkswagen Polo R5 on the opening round of this year’s FIA European Rally Championship. “OK, I did some dry stages in Monte Carlo this year, but this is nothing to compare. For Rome, the set-up from the car will be stiffer, completely different.
“The time with Sébastien [Loeb] taught me so much. I was so lucky to spend this time with him and sitting in the car and watching what he was doing made things much more clear for me. He showed me lots about weight transfer, braking, all of these things which are crucial for getting the car into the corner and through the corner without sliding.
“In the gravel, you slide the car more and this can be [the] fastest way. On Tarmac, when you are sliding, you can hear you are killing the tyres and taking away the speed. This is what I have to remember when I am getting into the car in Rome.”
While Oliver might not have competed on asphalt before, he has an enviable record in Italy. In 2017, shortly after his 16th birthday, he made his competitive debut in a World Rally Car at the Bettega Memorial Rallysprint in Bologna.
Despite never having driven a Ford Fiesta RS WRC before, he finished second overall, beating M-Sport Ford World Rally Team factory driver Teemu Suninen and only losing to Toyota Gazoo Racing star Kalle Rovanperä.
Little wonder Oliver likes Italy.
“That was a fantastic event,” he said. “I was driving with PA Racing then and it’s really nice to be back with these guys again. They have lots of experience with the car and the rally, so we are really in a good place with them.”
PA Racing sports director Matteo Bottacin said he was delighted to see Oliver back in the team.
Matteo said: “Oliver is one of the most promising young people in the world. In 2017, he was not even of 18 age, and at the Bologna Motorshow he went very, very fast with our team.
“I am sure that this year, at the Rally in Rome, with the support of Pirelli and Volkswagen Motorsport, with Oliver we can get a good result. We are very happy to work with Oliver again.”
With the second half of the World Rally Championship season potentially featuring three asphalt events, Oliver is keen to take as much sealed-surface experience as possible away from the Italian capital.
“I want to learn as much as I can,” said Oliver. “My style of driving is quite smooth and quite progressive so I’m hoping I can find a way to drive on Tarmac quickly. I will do some testing before the event and then work a lot with PA Racing to make sure I understand everything from the car side.
“Aaron [Johnston, co-driver] and me will be watching a lot of onboards for the rally to understand what are the stages like and to give us some idea what is going to be coming. I have to say a big thank you to everybody from the ERC and Eurosport for helping make this event happen for me.”
Rally di Roma Capitale starts with a qualifying stage on Friday July 24. Oliver will join FIA European Rally Championship regulars on a parade through the city of Rome later that day before the crews all embark on 18 stages (206 competitive kilometres) over the weekend.