The Welsh forests have hosted more than their fair share of titanic title scraps. Its latest showdown reached its crescendo last week as Robin Jonsson and Lukáš Matěja squared off in the Volkswagen Motorsport Rally Powys, held in a virtual Mid Wales.
The prize? The honor of becoming Solberg World Cup in association with DirtFish champion, with the allure of a day at the DirtFish Rally School in a real-life car. And with teenage rally sensation Oliver Solberg as instructor for the day, no less.
Jonsson prospered and bagged the title, having won two-thirds of the rounds. But he wasn’t the only one smiling. Although fellow competitor Jack Harrison was down in 672nd Wales, he too will be in Seattle soon, but for rather different reasons as one of DirtFish’s talented instructors.
His transition from real-life driver to sim racer is now complete, and he’s pleased with the linear progress he’s seen within himself throughout the six-round championship.
“Being able to do a full-online championship was surprisingly intense,” Harrison told DirtFish.
“It really kept me on my toes and in a racing mindset during a time when racing is somewhat sparse. It was a really cool experience to see myself progress from stage to stage.
“Overall, my driving has improved in my sim an insane amount. It’s funny going back to stages and seeing my previous best times and on a warm-up being able to set a stage [time] that was six seconds faster.”
But despite the Solberg World Cup ending and his day job at the rally school occupying his time again, Harrison still plans to play around with Dirt Rally 2.0 on the official DirtFish live stream.
“I’ll still be doing that twice a week,” he said. “We’ve enjoyed a couple of weeks off being in a championship, so it’s a little bit more relaxed on the stream, but [with] the people who’ve been watching us we’re developing our own championship which we’re becoming a part of now.
“But I think there’s real value in sim racing when it comes to keeping yourself in a competitive mindset before getting back in a car and being able to process a lot more visually, so relying less on the feel of the car and being able to process the car’s rotation just through vision.
“When you do get back in the car and have the added input from weight transfer and speed itself, you’re a little more aware of everything that’s happening so you’re not just relying on car feel.”
Wise words from a man that is well placed to comment. And he has more where that came from. Listen up Jonsson, Harrison has some tips for you.
“I think he’s going to be reasonably quick when he first gets in, especially with Oliver working with him” Harrison predicted.
“[But] the issue with going straight to a rally car [with no experience] is we’re fundamentally re-teaching how you process a car, so even if someone has years and years of asphalt experience and they’re used to the speed, their basic gut instinct and understanding gets flipped on its head really quickly.
“When you start getting the additional input of the speed, the bumps, the noise and the weight transfer, it’s very easy to go back to instinct so we’ll have to build up those instincts.
“[But] that kid is fast so I’m really excited to see what he does in one of our cars at DirtFish and then who knows, maybe we can try and get him on the stream at some point. We’ll see what we can get sorted out.”
However any appearance on the stream is likely to be without Howard the Ford Fiesta R5 for the time being. Christened Howard on the third round in Greece, the car has been key to Harrison’s success and like all good love stories, there were twists along the way. Harrison had flirted with opposition from Škoda for Sweden but stuck with his first love: Howard.
“Howard’s been a champion through this whole series,” Harrison reflected. “We’ll be spending a little bit of time apart from each other, but he’s always going to have a special place in my heart and I’m sure that’s not the last we’ll see of him.”
Fellow DirtFish instructor Sam Albert also took on the challenge of the Solberg World Cup but work commitments ruled him out of the final round in Wales.