They were always stories for the grandchildren, but even Per-Inge Walfridsson was slightly surprised when his grandson Oliver Solberg kept coming back for more memories of Kielder forest.
Now he understands – as will you as you progress through one of the season’s most intriguing news stories. Solberg will step out from his cutting edge Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 in Chile and into his father’s Ford Escort RS1800 for one of the year’s most challenging events: the Roger Albert Clark Rally.
As we know, generation after generation after generation of Walfridssons (Pernilla Solberg’s family) and Solbergs have competed in rallying and that’s how some of Britain’s most iconic stages became household names either side of the Swedish-Norwegian border.
“It’s always been a dream to do this rally,” said Oliver. “I heard so many stories about the rally and the stages which are used. I was telling my grandpa [Per-Inge Walfridsson] about it the other day and he straight away said: ‘You will be going to the Kielder forest, this is one tough place to compete!’
“It’s so cool to hear these stories and to have the chance to drive in places like Wales, Scotland and the north of England. Everybody heard so much about the old RAC Rally, it feels like we’re going back in time a little bit and doing this.”
Let’s stop and rewind a moment. The Roger Albert Clark Rally is named after one of Britain’s foremost rally heroes. Clark was a man who won Britain’s round of the World Rally Championship – ironically named the RAC Rally (an acronym derived from the Royal Automobile Club rather than Roger’s own initials) – twice. Kind of a ’70s Colin McRae and a household name on account of appearing in television commercials for hairspray.
Without a doubt, the Roger Albert Clark Rally has become one of the global highlights of the historic rallying calendar. It’s biennial, but you do the event one year and need the following 12 months to tell all of your stories before preparing for the next one.
It’s that good.
This year’s event starts from Carmarthen, South Wales on Wednesday November 22. Thursday and Friday are spent heading north through the principality running stages like Crychan, Myherin and Hafren. Saturday is classic Scottish Borders territory with Ae and Dalbeattie included before the route turns south and dives into Kielder for two days before finishing in Carlisle on Monday November 27.
Both of my eyes are absolutely on the finish. This will be the longest rally I ever competed onOliver Solberg
That means more than 30 stages and a 350-mile (560 kilometers) competitive route. It will be the longest stage rally in the UK for more than 30 years.
The Solberg stable contains a number of distinguished motors, but for the Roger Albert Clark, there’s only one car that would really work.
“It had to be the Escort,” smiled Oliver.
It really did – especially with Petter’s car being so close to the Group 4 motor Clark himself pedalled to victory on the 1976 RAC.
Talking of the car, Oliver has something to say about his father’s former co-driver and fellow world champion Phil Mills.
“Before I talk about anything else, I have to say a big thank you to Phil Mills. Phil has helped so much to make this happen, getting everything ready for us. It’s a fantastic opportunity.
“Unless there’s something a little bit unexpected, my season with WRC2 is going to end at Rally Chile next month. I know there’s a big gap before the start of next year and I was looking for events to do to keep me driving and keep me in the seat. I was talking with Phil and he suggested Roger Albert Clark.”
So, what’s the plan? Does he charge hard up through Wales, take it steady in Scotland and get back on it in Kielder?
“The finish,” said Oliver. “That’s the plan. Both of my eyes are absolutely on the finish. This will be the longest rally I ever competed on. It’s going to be fairly tough: five days and I think around 40% of the route in the dark in a car with no power steering – I’m going to be in the gym a fair bit from now until the start!
“Seriously though, this is about having fun – the result doesn’t matter. It’s about driving and just enjoying the sport in a car and on roads which are as legendary as each other. It’s really a dream to be doing this, so thanks again for Phil and everybody who’s made it happen.”
To take this one back to the top, Per-Inge started six RAC Rallies back in the day. He finished three of them in the top-10 and one of them in fourth place, the 1973 event when he was driving a Volvo 142.
In just over two months, Oliver and his grandpa will be able to trade stories over some of Britain’s most challenging, famous and infamous stages.