A record-breaking opening round of the Solberg World Cup in association with DirtFish was the same as the Monte Carlo Rally in pretty much every sense.
The snow was there, the ice followed and there was even a stretch or two of bone dry asphalt to get racey on. And the jaggedy rocks were as likely to give you a puncture as ever. The drops? Oh yes, the HTB Racing Rally Monte Carlo was definitely in the mountains.
Not even the reset button could save you.
The one thing which was completely different? Slight difference in the number of starters for January’s real deal and the opening event in a series dreamed up by 18-year-old Oliver Solberg.
Rallye Monte-Carlo started 87 competitors. HTB Racing Rally Monte Carlo took in just a few more for last week’s 12-stage SWC opener. Just a few more like 11,318.
So big was the response to Solberg World Cup in association with DirtFish, the makers of the DiRT Rally 2.0 game on which it’s played were taken by surprise.
Codemasters game director Ross Gowing said: “We have been overwhelmed with the response from players who wish to compete in the Solberg World Cup while the sporting calendar takes a backseat. We have a proud history working with Oliver and Petter, and for them to create and deliver our most competitive and active DiRT Rally 2.0 competition is testament to the respect they hold within the world of rally.”
Oliver was pretty bowled over too.
He said: “Did you see? More than 11,000! That’s crazy. We have to say a big, big thank you to everybody. Incredible.”
Oliver finished his own event in 15th, while his father Petter was a lowly 143rd after a puncture early in the rally cost him time.
“It was tricky,” said Oliver. “Monte is never easy and this is where this thing is so realistic! The ice and snow coming in places like the Col de Turini really made you focus so hard on the tyre choices and how hard you wanted to push.
“On the game, we have the damage turned really high, so if you clip a rock or something then you are going to get a puncture or some suspension damage. It’s incredible when you are in the middle of the stage, you completely lose yourself in this game. I came to the end and my concentration was so hard, it was amazing.
Petter, a podium finisher on the real Monte Carlo the last time he entered in 2012, said: “I’m pretty happy with that. It was not easy. Like Oliver said, you get so focused in there. I didn’t have so much experience of driving rally cars like this, so that result is good for me. The pace is so, so high. These guys are completely on the limit everywhere, but I know from experience that the mountains can bite you!
“We have to say a big thank you to all of the people who have joined us. When we started talking about doing this, we hoped we would get a few hundred people to take part, maybe even a thousand. But now, 11,000 for the championship, that’s fantastic!”
Sim racer Lukáš Matêja won the HTB Racing Rally Monte Carlo opener, finishing 11.081s clear of everyone in a virtual Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
The Solberg World Cup in association with DirtFish moves on to Circle K Norge Rally Värmland for round two. That event is up and running already.