It’s going to be an exciting season for Oliver Solberg. Dropped from his full factory Hyundai WRC drive at the end of last year, the 21-year-old Swedish-Norwegian rally protege is now back in the game, and back behind the wheel for 2023.
With a championship-contending WRC2-class Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 at his disposal – run by the acclaimed Toksport outfit, which has won teams’ and drivers’ championship titles across 2020, ’21 and ’22 – it’s truly all to play for.
Compared to the nervous tension of graduating to a works WRC program in early 2021, the young Solberg cuts a much more composed figure now.
Being a couple of years older and wiser has definitely contributed to some serious speed, because at last month’s Monte Carlo Rally – which by his own account was only supposed to be a test session – he won 10 of the 18 stages in the RC2 contest, including taking victory on the famous Col de Turini powerstage.
Better yet, Solberg and his co-driver Elliott Edmondson were only out of the top-10 times overall on five stages – despite his Rally2 class Škoda having a 250bhp deficit to the headlining Rally1 class WRC cars.
Following his performance around the snaking Tarmac in the Monte Carlo hills, Solberg then headed for the Race of Champions where he went both head to head and teamed up with a three-time FIA rally and rallycross world champion: aka his Dad, Petter Solberg. And together they won the Nations Cup for Team Norway.
Read on to hear Oliver’s thoughts on the season ahead, the future of rallying, and getting back on track to fulfilling his WRC dream…
Tell us about being back in the hotseat, how was Monte Carlo?
Before Monte Carlo, it was about five months since I had sat in a proper rally car. Monte isn’t the easiest place to start with, but it is great to finally be back. I’ve been in Rally2 before at least, so I knew what to expect.
But honestly I didn’t expect to get the results we did. Everything felt very smooth from the start, and 10 stage wins was just crazy. I didn’t take points from Monte Carlo, because we always intended for Monte to just be a warm up, and to figure out what level the competition was at. And of course getting used to everything again.
Why no points registration for the first round, what’s the plan?
Yeah, it was tricky. You need to decide before the season starts which rounds you will do as part of the championship. We chose Monte Carlo as a test: with the car being so new, and wanted to use it to shake down any issues that might come up. I just wanted to use it as a baseline, and have a good test in a competition environment. Also for myself and Elliott to get back into a rhythm again.
Monaco is a bit of a gamble in a way too – you need a lot of luck, and it’s a difficult one, with so many strong local French drivers. I do want to drive more if possible – potentially 10 rounds in total. But for the championship in terms of points-scoring rallies we are registered with seven. I will start my points campaign at Rally Sweden – where it’s at home basically, and I feel the most comfortable.
Just one year to step back is only part of the journeyOliver Solberg
What drew you to the Toksport drive?
For me the most important thing was to get into a car and set-up that I enjoyed. I felt that the team at Toksport had created a really progressive and positive environment, where everyone really wanted to win, and were really motivated to work together. For sure it’s really sad not to be able to drive WRC, it was starting to build and go better.
But maybe it’s better to just be a little philosophical and say perhaps Hyundai wasn’t the right place at the time. I feel much better now it is how it is. I don’t see it as a step back at all, it’s all part of the journey, and we are still in the world championship. It’s good to be still building on something, and be in a position to fight for the title this season.
What’s the dynamic like with your co-driver Elliott Edmondson?
It is amazing, he is really amazing. I keep saying that he is like Phil Mills [Oliver’s father Petter’s long-time co-driver] number two. I think he wants to be even better. He’s such a great guy, and has such a calm and nice personality. Elliott is really professional with his job, and we have a lot of fun in the car. So that’s as much as I could ask for. It’s fantastic for sure.
You have a unique insight into the sport – not just from a family point of view – where do you see it all heading?
It’s difficult to say at the moment, with everything going on around the world. I think the organizers have pulled together a strong championship this season. The industry is facing a lot of change in terms of where they want to go – and what different manufacturers see as sustainable solutions.
But WRC is still the dream?
Of course, WRC is still absolutely my dream. I think just one year to step back is only part of the journey. More and more teams will hopefully build up young drivers to bring them through to WRC. That’s another reason we need more manufacturers involved: to boost the numbers and just physically have more cars in the paddock. The championship is great, but the WRC for sure needs more cars.
What will be the key season points for you?
I really don’t know which ones will be highlights and challenges this season. I know after Monte Carlo that it is going to be a hard fight this year, but this makes it more fun. On Tarmac I and the team know that the car is very good. So based on that, I’ll pick some more Tarmac events. We will see.
This is the same in rallying. Some are campaigning for hydrogen, some are looking at hybrids, some are looking at electric. It’s very difficult to predict which direction things will go. I think one thing is for sure, rallying needs to make the sport more accessible for manufacturers.
This is the key. If you look at other championships – and I don’t just mean F1 – like touring cars for example, there is a lot of interest once the powertrains discussion is agreed. At the moment there aren’t many manufacturers in WRC – which is dangerous for the sport – so I think rallying needs to follow the lead of other series to get that interest back.