Oliver Solberg couldn’t help himself – he just couldn’t stop grinning. He was never supposed to be here in Wales, and the circumstances that led to him touching down in Llandudno were far from ideal. And yet the only energy Solberg radiated throughout the Cambrian Rally was joy.
“It’s strange,” he said. “Of course I’m not happy I’ve lost my seat, but I feel like myself again, you know?”
A matter of weeks earlier, Solberg’s world had crumbled down around him. Dropped from Hyundai Motorsport’s World Rally Championship lineup as it changed its strategy to employ only experienced drivers, Solberg was suddenly left out in the cold.
He could’ve stayed at home and let it all fester, but wallowing at home isn’t the Solberg way. Driving a rally car, though, very much is.
Free from the pressure, problems and politics of driving an i20 N Rally1, Solberg was back behind the wheel of an old friend in the Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 and set about reminding himself why he rallies in the first place.
If it’s not fun, what’s the point?
“That was the point, just driving with enjoyment.”
Anyone who stood stage-side could certainly attest that Solberg was indeed enjoying himself. His Polo was like an excitable dog ready to go for a walk, tail wagging – or in this case, sliding – as he negotiated each turn.
A win was all but guaranteed – anything else, frankly, would have been a touch embarrassing. So there was an element of risk involved in this appearance. But the gamble very much paid off as Solberg won eight out of 10 stages to win by just shy of two minutes.
Impressive as it was, this winning performance on the Cambrian isn’t going to be the decisive factor in convincing M-Sport Ford or Toyota to bring Solberg into their fold – although, equally, it certainly won’t dissuade them.
But that wasn’t the point of this exercise. Instead, Solberg wanted to get back on the horse and fall back in love with rallying again. Some classic Welsh stages, a superbly sorted car and a rally win were the perfect ingredients to ensure he did just that.
And the net result was the version of Solberg – that we’d almost forgotten was an effigy – was gone, and in his place returned the old Oliver. An Oliver who had a spring in his step, belief in himself and swagger in his driving.
Fantastic to be back on these stages – and in the rain and the mud it’s just as fun, and extra sideways! 🤘
Leading by over a minute after the morning loop 👌 and great to see so many fans out and about – thanks to Rhodri, Alice, Ed, Ellie and Josh for the footage! 📹 pic.twitter.com/nEhcrVfvHt
— Oliver Solberg 🍩 (@OliverSolberg01) October 29, 2022
“I’ve had a big smile on my face the whole weekend and doing these great stages with such a good car… I’ve been playing around, such big slides sometimes and just enjoying myself, it’s been great,” Solberg beamed.
“I think the beginning of the year this year was good too, I had a smile on my face at least in Sweden and stuff but after that it’s been a lot of tough times in the team and everything around, so yeah it’s been not so enjoyable to be honest and I think you see the same on Ott [Tänak] so that’s been tough.
“But now I have a smile back and my fire is back, so now I’m just waiting to see what program I can get for next year.”
Hyundai’s loss was very much Wales and the British Rally Championship’s gain this weekend. But the WRC will be the biggest loser if Solberg isn’t on that first startline of the season next January.