Talking to Elliott Edmondson as he waited to check Oliver Solberg’s Škoda into service, he was more sanguine than he would have been five weeks earlier in México.
Solberg and Edmondson were by no means having a disastrous rally, but things weren’t going exactly to plan either.
But they were competing in Croatia purely for experience and seat time rather than points towards their WRC2 title campaign, so that undoubtedly softened the blow.
“It’s a rally, so we still want to win!” Edmondson said. “But I suppose it [not scoring] makes things easier if things aren’t going so well.”
Eventually the pair would net a podium finish, stealing third in class from reigning WRC2 champion Emil Lindholm on the powerstage.
But with just three stage wins in class (having scored at least eight on each of the previous three rounds), Croatia was Solberg’s weakest performance of 2023 so far – featuring two hot moments with a half spin on Friday and a huge slide down the road that broke his rear tailgate and spoiler on Saturday.
“That was a proper moment!” Solberg exclaimed, in typical Solberg fashion.
But his overriding emotion from the weekend was clear.
“At least now I know what not to do with the car.”
Solberg’s two-day test for Croatia was predominantly held in soaking conditions, giving him a good feel for his Fabia RS Rally2 in the wet.
But the problem was, save for a brief shower on Friday afternoon, the rally proved to be bone dry. So Solberg was left fighting with a car that was too soft for the conditions the rally threw up.
“I made a mistake on the test,” he told DirtFish. “I was hoping for more wet and I was a bit optimistic with the setup for those conditions and it didn’t work in the dry, so it was killing, overheating the tires.
“I thought it was going to be more wet because last year was such bad weather so I thought it would be the same this year, so I did that mistake with the setup clearly.
“But OK, now Saturday evening and Sunday morning was more dirty and so I could be quicker on a few stages. A little bit less than I hoped for but it’s OK.
“The good learning point is last year we had full wet and this year it was dry so at least I get a good learning from both conditions for the future which is important.”
It is, because that was the mission of the weekend. But Solberg’s a rally driver, he wants to win, so there was clear frustration that he wasn’t able to go anywhere near as fast as he had done on the previous asphalt round, Monte Carlo Rally.
“The car, chassis-wise, is similar to Monte Carlo but diff-wise it’s definitely different,” he explained.
“That’s where I did a mistake basically and we have no more diffs… we can’t change the diff during the race basically so we have to live with what we have.
“After Friday I knew I could only hope for rain and, yeah, then of course it was dry. We knew it was going to be difficult so I just tried everything I could with everything else and came out with the same things as Monte Carlo in the end anyway.
“So yeah, it’s quite clear what the issue was.
“When I look at it now, it should have been a clear, easy choice that I chose the other diffs,” Solberg added.
“But I went quite an extreme way with opening my diffs for more wet conditions. It worked as I said when it was very dirty or muddy yesterday… or yesterday sometimes.
“But when it’s dry they just don’t lock and they just don’t pull. You asked the decision behind it and I also wonder!” he laughed.
“I think it’s mainly because we had a wet test, full rain, and very good feeling there. It was raining on the recce when I had to do the decision.
“But I should have trusted the weather report which said dry, and I was a little bit chicken!”
A Solberg being chicken, I never thought I’d see the day!
But it was ultimately a decision made with the right intentions, particularly as the end result was effectively worthless.
If Solberg was going to make a small mistake, a rally that didn’t count towards his season was the right place to do it.