Petter Solberg doesn’t do one place. He doesn’t do sitting still. So four walls for two weeks in Portugal has been particularly tricky for this man of the people. But it’s done now. The triple FIA World Champion’s been through coronavirus and come out the other side. From the darkness of a fortnight in a Porto hotel room, he and his family have landed into the light of Planet Adamo.
Nestled in the Piedmont hills, Alba is famous for two things. The first is, of course, the best possible use of Barbera grapes. The second is a man called Pietro Ferrero, a confectioner from the area who, short on chocolate in the post-war years decided to add hazelnuts to his product instead. How did that go? Have a think about it the next time you enjoy your Nutella on toast this morning…
But for one week each year, Alba has another famous son. Andrea Adamo.
Hyundai Motorsport’s team principal is actually from just down the road in Cuneo, but Rally di Alba is the biggest event in his local area. And in recent years, it’s become known as the Adamo Grand Prix. Along with a hugely enthusiastic Hyundai Italia importer, he brings lots of cars and lots of love to the people he grew up around.
A couple of years ago Sébastien Loeb won this event. Last year it was Thierry Neuville. This year? It could be Ott Tänak. Or it could be Oliver Solberg. Both will drive i20 Coupe WRCs.
Adamo’s quick to dismiss any hint of geographical nepotism, pointing out that driving these roads will help make a faster car for faster drivers. He’s right. But it’s also an opportunity for him to give something back to an area that’s given him lots.
I think it’s the proper ambience to let him make his debut on TarmacAndrea Adamo
Moreover this week, it’s a chance for him to return the Solberg smile. Let’s not forget, Oliver’s enforced quarantine meant him missing a gravel debut aboard a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. Adamo saw an opportunity.
“I bring Oliver in Alba because I know all the people there,” Adamo told DirtFish. “I know Oliver, I know his dad and I know Pernilla. They have to enjoy again.
“And Alba, I think… I am sure, they will enjoy. He will do the stages, but there is no pressure. I think it’s the proper ambience to let him make his debut on Tarmac. It’s somewhere there will be people, he will be cheered there.
“Petter, of course, is a star in Italy – mainly more than others because he is good and he won a lot. So the mood will be good, and a good mood, I think, is important to be there without the pressure.”
Talking for the first time since emerging from quarantine in Port, Petter said: “I’ve been in Portugal so many weeks. It’s been hard to stay in the room for the whole time, but I know it’s the best for everybody.
Unfortunately, because of this, Oliver missed Sardinia with the World Rally Car, but now we are in Alba. Oliver will do his first rally on Tarmac with the World Rally Car, using the whole race as a good test.
“I can’t wait. It’s 30 degrees, it’s fantastic and it’s very good to be back.”
But there’s still work to do for the team. Last time he was on asphalt in Croatia earlier this season, it’s fair to say Tänak didn’t set the world alight. With three more full asphalt rallies to come this season, the Estonian needs to find the i20’s asphalt sweet spot.
“This event, this weekend, is important because it’s part of the process that we keep working, working, working, working,” said Adamo.
“Ott, I think he needs more Tarmac working than Thierry [Neuville], so we decided to take this opportunity. For sure they [the people of Alba] welcome us very, very thankfully and they are supporting us, so for us it’s a good opportunity.
“Honestly, it’s not me. The drivers were really happy about the roads, so they told me that they are good for testing what we have in mind because it’s just set-up, but it’s important.
“We take the occasion, we are here to win. We are not here, like you think, to drink wine or to eat the food.”
The Barbera d’Asti and the Ferrero Rocher are just fringe benefits.
Rally d’Alba starts from Alba on Saturday evening with nine stages – three loops of three – on Sunday.