Oliver shows Portuguese pace ahead of an Italian job with ŠKODA
Oliver looking forward to ŠKODA Fabia Rally2 evo return in Italy this week
19-year-old tackles Rally Italia WRC3 round in Czech machine
More asphalt experience and more pace at Rally Fafe Montelongo
Praise for incredible Wolf Pack effort to keep Oliver in the rally
Oliver fastest on day two of the rally, on only his second asphalt event
“It’s been a little bit of a crazy weekend in Portugal, but I learned so much!”
Fresh from a dominant class win on his last World Rally Championship outing, Oliver Solberg returns to WRC3 competition at this week’s Rally Italia Sardegna.
The teenage Swede was on confident and very quick form to deliver a comprehensive class win at Rally Estonia last month. That was aboard his family-run Volkswagen Polo R5. This time around, Oliver’s back with the ŠKODA Fabia Rally2 evo he drove at Rally Sweden in February.
“It’s fantastic to be back in the ŠKODA,” said the 19-year-old. “I feel there’s a little bit of unfinished business after Sweden. We were looking good for a podium when we caught a puncture on the final stage and dropped to fifth. I want to get that podium back!”
While he hasn’t competed aboard the factory-supported Monster Energy-backed Fabia Rally2 evo since February, he has tested the car in recent weeks.
“Everybody has been working really hard with the car,” he said, “and the feeling was very, very nice from the test. But for me, Sardinia is a new rally and a new place where I didn’t compete before, so I have a lot to learn. I know it’s going to be a tough event, one of the rougher ones and one where the weather can make quite a big difference to the road surface and grip level. It sounds like I’m taking the ŠKODA back to school this week!”
One thing Oliver’s not short on is seat time. He’ll land directly onto the Italian island straight from competing at this weekend’s European Rally Championship qualifier in Portugal.
Plenty of Portuguese pace
Oliver’s latest ERC encounter proved to be one of the most action-packed of his short career. After going off the road on his second run at the shakedown stage, the team worked through Friday night to ensure Oliver’s Volkswagen Polo R5 would be ready for the opening stage proper.
It was. The team did an unbelievable job and the Monster Energy-backed Polo left service looking pristine. Oliver repaid the sterling work with some superb pace on only his second ever asphalt rally. A wrong tyre choice (Oliver went with wets only for the stages to dry more than he expected) cost time in the afternoon, but it was a turbo problem which ruled him out of potential back-to-back ERC series wins.
With his hopes of victory gone, Oliver spent Sunday learning more and more about driving in changeable conditions on asphalt and getting the best out of the set-up and Pirelli tyres beneath his Polo R5.
Oliver said: “Before I talk anything about the rally, I want to say a very big thank you to every single member of the team. The Wolf Pack was really coming together after I made a mistake in shakedown on Friday.
“The car was quite badly damaged, but as soon as the FIA said we could try to fix it, I knew the guys would make it happen. They worked 14 hours straight through the night and they made the car look like new again. I don’t know how they did it… actually, I do, they managed it because they are the best in the world. Fantastic. It was actually quite some emotion to drive away after what they did.
“After that, the rally has been a tough one. We had some issues and sometimes we took the wrong tyres. But there is still some big positives to take from this event.
“It’s been a little bit of a crazy weekend in Portugal, but I learned so much! When you are trying to drive with the tyre which is not perfect for the conditions – which you have to do sometimes, you are never going to have exactly the correct tyre all the time – then you are taking so much experience all of the time. The grip level was so hard to judge on some of the roads, but these kind of tough weekends are the ones where you really take the hard lessons.”
Oliver ended Rally Fafe Montelongo on a high with a third stage win out of Sunday’s nine stages. Had it not been for a 1m10s penalty taken on leaving service (to ensure the overnight repairs were all in order), he would have been fastest across Sunday by more than 10 seconds.
“Today, I’m happy,” said Oliver. “The main thing for me is to see the improvement in the speed on this surface. I think I showed that today and I can leave Portugal on a strong feeling now.
“Now for Sardinia and the ŠKODA. I can’t wait!”