Whispers were already beginning to spread among the photographers – not that you could hear them over the howl of BDA goodness revolving 10,000 times every minute.
Each turned to their mate, and they arrived at the same conclusion. Nobody had seen a Ford Escort Mk2 being driven this quickly before.
The biennial Roger Albert Clark Rally is, unofficially, a celebration of the gorgeous creation Boreham gave the rallying world. UK rally drivers love an Escort, and in this historic event they’re front and center of it all.
The widespread popularity of the Mk2 can create frustration among the loyal spectators braving the cold and the rain up on the stage-side banks. But not this Escort. Because this Escort was being driven by Oliver Solberg.
Tuesday was a hugely important day for the 22-year-old. With just over two weeks before the start of the five-day, 350-mile RAC Rally, these were important miles for the Swede to get accustomed to his father’s steed. That’s right – Petter has loaned his Mk2 to Oliver for this mammoth event.
The venue of choice? Sweet Lamb. An iconic venue for tests, and one that’ll handily feature in the rally at the end of the month.
“First run, amazing – amazing feeling straight away,” Solberg beamed. “And I really found a good rhythm.
“I was a bit surprised. But no power-steering was lighter than I thought. And amazing – big slides and proper noise. 10,700rpm you know, rev the s*** out of the car, and enjoy.
“You have proper revs, you feel it through your ass, you know, into the body. It was amazing!”
From the very first run, Solberg was on it. Fully committed as if he was driving a World Rally Championship powerstage. It can be easy to forget just how supremely talented the world’s best rally drivers are until you see them out of their natural habitat. The speed they can achieve straight out of the box is sublime.
From around 1pm to well after dark, Solberg was pounding round the facility to get his eye in for what he’ll face. Not wishing to miss out on the fun, Petter came out with him and drove some runs himself – and was extremely keen to compare his onboards with his son!
The family aspect is important to Solberg, but for once not necessarily because of his father who, just two days after the test, celebrated 20 years since his WRC title success.
“You know, the main reason why I actually do it is because my grandfather did it in 1976 with the Stratos,” Oliver said.
“Unfortunately, my grandfather has Alzheimer’s now and he can’t remember anything except if you ask him from that time. So I thought that’s a nice thing – it’s cool to remember something together.
“You know, I’ve done it, he remembers the rally like yesterday. So it’s an emotional memory, but a nice memory.”
It’s a truly heart-warming tale, but there’ll be no time for sentiment when Solberg begins the longest event of his career so far on Thursday November 23.
From what we have seen, he’s more than ready.
DirtFish videographer was at the test, filming for a video that will be available on DirtFish’s YouTube channel very soon.
“I had a great day and tests are a great opportunity to get to know these crazy drivers, and the Solbergs are the most accommodating of all rally families,” Eliot said.
“Seeing Petter and Oliver head over to the laptop in between runs and react with joy to what you have just shot is great, but it’s instantly followed by a discussion about car setup, and why the car is acting how it is in the video.
“No stone was left unturned, unless it was flung towards my camera lenses!
“If Oliver knows any camera cleaning techniques then he should let me know, because you’ll see he wasn’t shy in chucking mud everywhere.
“These stills don’t do Oliver’s commitment justice – for that you’ll have to keep an eye out for the full video.”
As for Oliver himself?
“Honestly… I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into,” he laughed, “but a hell of an adventure anyway!”