So this is how a perfect day starts. It’s turned nine before the sun really shows its face this close to the top of the world.
Not that Oliver Solberg has really noticed. He’s jumping. Metaphorically and physically.
And now he’s… well, it’s hard to describe exactly what he’s doing. He’s kind of running and dancing on the spot. DirtFish declines the opportunity to join him. Coffee’s a much more sensible option, even if it has to be drunk quicker than usual. Not even Styrofoam can insulate against mercury diving this far south.
Oliver’s father Petter pours the coffee and smiles at his son.
“He’s excited,” says the 2003 World Rally Champion watching his boy, now deep in conversation with a hatted and hooded engineer.
The time had come.
Opening the door to climb aboard a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC for the first time, Oliver paused and reached out his hand to his father. Pulled into a big hug, the pair share a moment.
“See you later Papa,” grins Oliver.
The engine’s fired. The serenity of a stunning Arctic morning shattered.
“I have to say, this is quite emotional,” smiles the older of the Solbergs. “To see him driving one of these cars is a big thing. He’s only been driving rally cars for four years!”
Any hope of engaging Petter in conversation is gone. He’s heading stage-side to see what a 19-year-old can do with the World Rally Championship-winning Hyundai.
We’re standing on the inside of a double apex left-hander. Now Petter can’t keep still. He’s running on the spot, he’s the same bundle of latent energy that he always was.
Two or three trees away, a snowball scores a direct hit on the back of the Wolfpack parka. Before Solberg can retaliate, there’s the unmistakable noise of a World Rally Car being pedalled hard. Harder than Petter thought it would be.
He’s still now. Face fixed at the car’s point of entry to our field of vision.
The Hyundai comes over a crest already hard on the brakes. Down a gear, a chirrup of wastegate chatter and turn in. Apex one done, there’s a stab of throttle to shift the weight and rotate the rear into apex two. And he’s done.
The car disappears in a cloud of snow dust.
Petter breaks it.
“That was impressive.”
The day progressed in a similar vein. Working through a range of transmission and suspension changes, Oliver’s speed and width of smile grew exponentially – to the point that he looked genuinely disappointed when it came to getting out of the car for lunch.
“I just want to keep driving,” he says. “It’s so much fun. I drive to the start line and all the time I have a big smile. OK, the concentration is coming to take over when I put to the ‘stage’ [mode], but you can’t stop the smile when you are driving It’s just fantastic!
“I think you know I have been thinking to this day and dreaming about it for a long time, to come to a test with a World Rally Car and a works team and to be here and doing it is just something else.
“I drove the rallycross car with a lot of power before, so the speed is OK for me, but the grip from the aero is just incredible. I think this is going to be the thing that takes me more time to get used to. If I’m honest, driving the car actually felt a little bit easier than I thought it would; you get a lot from the center diff – you can really work the car from that side. And, like I say, the aero grip is insane.
“It would be good if we had some more really high speed corners so I could try more – some sixth-gear corners would be nice. But that’s what we can do on the rally, that’s what the rally is for.”
Talking about the rally, what’s possible?
“Nothing! Nothing is possible,” he says. “We will go and drive and make it like a test. Nothing fancy, nothing special, I drive like it’s a test; hopefully there is more speed coming through the days, but I’m not taking any pressure or any special feeling. I just want to drive at my speed.
“But one thing I really do have to say is that this team is a very special one. Andrea [Adamo, team principal] and everybody here has made us so welcome. Such good people.”
“I am 46,” he says. “Am I 46? Or 47 now? I don’t remember.
Driving the car actually felt a little bit easier than I thought it would; you get a lot from the centre diff – you can really work the car from that side.Oliver Solberg
“But I have been in the sport a long time and I tell you, this team is a good one. They’re so motivated, but at the same time really nice and relaxed – we’ve had a fantastic time here with them. And, I tell you, Oliver is talking a lot with his engineers. Maybe he takes this from his Mum…”
The only downside to Oliver’s day was not having his co-driver Aaron Johnston with him. A canceled flight grounded a very frustrated Northern Irishman – the Wolfpack WhatApp group came as some comfort.
Ott Tänak’s co-driver Martin Järveoja stepped in and helped Oliver out, doing a superb job for his first day with English notes.
But when he left for the airport, the Hyundai’s right-hand seat was taken by Mr A. Adamo. Now the pressure; the headmaster sitting alongside you.
“Not at all,” says Oliver. “He was very cool. It was fantastic to have him there. He was a little bit quiet though.”
Emerging from the car after a couple of runs, DirtFish asks the obvious question.
“How am I? How am I? I am alive. That’s all I need to say.”
But it would be nice to say a little bit more…
“It was nice. I’m sure people would give their right arm to be in that seat, but I’m not always the best passenger! And I couldn’t see anything from where I was sitting. In the end, I took my phone and held it in the air – then I could look to the screen to see what was going on out the front!
“I’m happy with the day. I’m happy with the work my people did, they worked hard like always and I’m sure we will find the results. For Oliver, it was good. I spend some time with his family and I’m impressed. They are intelligent people with a lot of passion for the sport. I like this. But what I really like is that I can see Oliver is so professional and so dedicated to what he’s doing.
“But, at the same time he is living his life like a 19-year-old. I can recognize for myself when I was 19, I have the same passion, the same dream to work in this sport. Talking with Petter, it’s the same feeling he has had when he was that age.”
On Sunday, in a very sunny spot near the top of the world, dreams were busy being realized.