“I don’t want to finish, that’s how I feel,” giggled Nil Solans as he spoke to DirtFish halfway through the final day of Rally Spain.
He’d earlier joked that he “doesn’t need any more sex” in 2021, such was the pleasure he was deriving from driving a current-spec World Rally Car for the very first time.
For any rally driver this is a dream, but it’s that little bit extra special when the opportunity of a lifetime comes on home territory.
This was Solans’ reality in Spain. With Pierre-Louis Loubet sidelined for the rest of the season following a traffic accident as a pedestrian in Paris, the keys to a 2C Competition Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC were up for grabs.
Backers spied an opportunity and capitalized. Solans – who didn’t even have an entry for the rally – was in. The deal was announced just a week before the event, proving just how last minute the whole affair was.
“What can I say? I just enjoy every corner a lot and the smile was on my face, it’s unbelievable,” Solans smiled once more.
“I enjoyed it a lot, I learned a lot as well. There were many new things for me like the diffs, central diff, aerodynamics – a lot of stuff, a lot of buttons on the steering wheel as well. I think we managed everything quite well.
“It was hard to be thinking all the time about everything we need to do in these cars that are not on the R5s, but good, good. I had a good feeling after a long rally, I think we have done a very good job and I hope maybe one day, when I can drive it again, I hope to do as well as I did here.”
Solans, whose 2021 program prior to Spain had been in the European Rally Championship in a Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo, finished a strong eighth overall, less than 10 seconds down on team-mate Oliver Solberg.
Solberg was slowed by a clutch problem late on Saturday, but Solans’ speed surpassed any expectations with a pair of top-six stage times proving he was learning fast in his new environment.
“Dani Sordo was telling me, ‘Nil, you can push, the rear wing is amazing, don’t worry, the rear is not moving’,” said Solans, when asked about adjusting to the tricky aerodynamics on WRC cars; the key difference between them and their Rally2 counterparts.
“I tried on the first day on Friday, when we put harder springs in, and I had a big moment on a left corner, very fast, and then after that I text Dani: ‘OK, the rear is good, but sometimes it’s quite slippy’.
“But good, good. When you find the limit in two or three corners, you know where it is, so you can try to keep it like that.”
This however was not the hardest thing for Solans to adapt to. He believed finding the correct set-up – with so many diff maps, damper clicks and so on available – “was quite difficult”.
“It takes a lot of time, a lot of stages, a lot of new tries every service,” he said.
“The most difficult thing for me was maybe to adapt to all the engine settings, all the diffs, and to try to carry the speed in some corners. But [to be competing on a] global rally for me, I’m very happy.”
That much was obvious. Even Craig Breen – known for his emotion – would’ve struggled to rival Solans’ joy had he been competing in Spain. It was infectious to watch Solans grinning and laughing with co-driver Marc Martí as he finished the stages. Even while he was still driving them, he was captured smiling by on-board cameras.
“I just wanted to finish this rally. I’ve finished this job, and we can talk tomorrow about everything, about what is our plans,” Solans replied, when asked if he had any plans for the rest of this season and next.
“But for sure I want to keep being inside the car. R5, WRC, it’s no matter, but I want to continue driving, because I think our progression is quite good, and just focus on to the next season maybe.”
Solans need not wait for next season, as he will drive the Team MRF Tyres entry on this weekend’s Rally Hungary round of the European Rally Championship.
That entry, at the wheel of a new i20 N Rally2, comes in place of Hyundai junior Jari Huttunen – who said he had a “change of plans”, adding “We will tell about our future plans later. Let’s see what 2022 brings”.
But what of Solans’ WRC prospects? Competing at home may have boosted his performance, but it would be a shame if Rally Spain proves to be his only shot in this equipment given the promise he showed throughout the rally weekend.
And, for the rest of us watching at home, we all loved seeing somebody go about their business with such immense pleasure.