What a difference a month makes. A month to the day after Oliver Solberg was told he would close the door on his Porto hotel room and not open it for another two weeks, he will start a gravel round of the World Rally Championship in a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC for the first time.
And not just any gravel event. It’s Safari Rally Kenya.
The 19-year-old was scheduled to drive an i20 Coupe WRC on dirt for the first time at Rally Italy earlier this month. But instead of competing on the Italian island, he was busy not being busy in quarantine following his father Petter’s positive coronavirus test.
Since emerging from the Portuguese hotel, Oliver’s been very busy. He’s making his World Rally Car debut on asphalt at Rally di Alba today and will fly out to Nairobi next week to replace Pierre-Louis Loubet.
“I know I talk about my dreams a lot,” said a predictably excited Oliver, “but this one really is a dream. I can’t believe it! When Andrea [Adamo, Hyundai Motorsport team principal] and Alain [Penasse, Hyundai Motorsport team manager] first talked about me maybe going out to do the recce on Safari, I was so excited.
“Now I’m going to compete at Safari Rally Kenya.
“Stop, I want to say that one more time: I’m going to compete at Safari Rally Kenya!”
“The World Rally Championship is full of incredible events in amazing places, but this is such an honor and a privilege to be doing this one.
“The WRC has been waiting for 19 years since the last Safari and to be competing with a factory World Rally Car when the sport goes back to Africa is so special. I’m always excited to be getting in a car to drive, but this is on another level now.
“Like always, I want to say a really big thank you to Andrea, Alain and the whole team for making this happen.”
Solberg’s i20 Coupe WRC debut on Arctic Rally Finland, 2021’s round two, was one of the talking points of the early season after he raced Sébastien Ogier through Saturday before finishing seventh on Sunday.
“When I drove this car on the Arctic,” said Solberg, “I was really sad to get out at the end. The i20 Coupe WRC is an amazing car – it’s how it won the world championship for the last two years – and now I will be back driving it for three days on some of the most incredible roads on one of the world’s most famous rallies. I just can’t wait!”
Safari Rally Kenya starts from the nation’s capital Nairobi on Thursday June 24, with 18 stages running around the Naivasha service park in the following three days.
Adamo added: “I am really happy that Oliver can finally make his gravel debut with the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC on gravel at Safari Rally Kenya.
“We have seen at the Arctic Rally Finland that he can be very fast in the WRC car and I think he already showed what he can do, but most of all we want him to enjoy the Safari and there won’t be any pressure on him. I am sure we will see again some nice speed from Oliver and he will have the possibility to learn more about the car.
“I am looking forward to see him in action, we all know he is a very fast driver, who is both passionate and dedicated – I really like his approach to things and I am sure he will be able to impress again.”