It will have been 94 days since Oliver Solberg drove a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC when he returns to the world championship-winning World Rally Car in Sardinia next month.
That’s 2,263 hours. Give or take a minute. But who’s counting?
Solberg. That’s who. He’s a teenager, don’t forget. And teenagers like Oliver don’t like sitting still. In fact, the 19-year-old son of triple FIA world champion Petter Solberg doesn’t like sitting anywhere that’s not in a rally car. Preferably one called ‘i20 Coupe WRC.’
Which is why his return to 2C Compétition is such good news for Solberg, who raised eyebrows with a startlingly quick debut aboard the car at February’s Arctic Rally Finland.
“I have been looking forward to driving this car again from the minute I finished the last stage in Finland,” said Solberg. “It’s impossible not to smile when you are driving this car, it’s just fantastic to have that power, that lift and that grip. I can’t wait for Sardinia.”
As well as setting tongues wagging in Lapland earlier this year, Solberg’s pace aboard a Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo was one of the talking points of the WRC’s last visit to Sardinia in October last year.
Fastest Rally2 car from the off, he momentarily lost that position when he suffered a puncture on Monte Lerno. He returned to the front, only to beach the car in the Turgu stage last thing Saturday.
“I know a little bit about the roads in Sardinia,” said Oliver. “There are some new stages coming for this year, maybe people like [Sébastien] Ogier and [Ott] Tänak know those roads, but I think it will be the first time for most people. That’s good.
“There will be some aspects of Sardinia that will be tougher than Arctic. When we were in Rovaniemi, we knew the conditions and we knew what to expect: it would be snowy and the conditions were quite consistent.
“But on this rally, it can be really hot, but at the same time we have occasionally seen some really heavy rain – it doesn’t happen often, but if this comes then the lack of experience will tell a little bit. I don’t have a clue how is the grip if it’s raining like mad in Sardinia.
“But that’s why I’m there. The thing I want from this event is experience.”
Solberg being denied a strong debut in the snow added pressure for his second shot in an i20 Coupe WRC.
“Nothing has changed,” he said. “Like I said, I go to this event looking for experience and the opportunity to understand the car and how it works in this surface. The road position should be quite good for me on the first day, but I’m not thinking about the result.
“Maybe Sardinia can be tougher than Arctic, but the good thing is that I do have that time in the car in Finland and I do have some idea of what the stages will be like in Sardinia. Hopefully, this means I can have a good direction for the set-up in the car.”
Solberg is expected to test the i20 Coupe WRC in Sardinia ahead of the June 3-6 event, which shifts its base from Alghero across to the opposite side of the island and the east coast town of Olbia.
“I really enjoyed Sardinia last year,” said Solberg. “The roads were a lot of fun and we were even able to beat Thierry [Neuville] on the first stage in our R5 car! It’s a fantastic place with some amazing roads and a really nice atmosphere.
“It’s Italy, a place where the people are so knowledgeable and so passionate about our sport – just look at our team principal in Hyundai Motorsport: Andrea [Adamo] is a man with rallying in his heart. This is the same for my family.”
And Sardinia’s no stranger to a bit of Solberg fever – Oliver’s father Petter was the first man ever to win a WRC round on the island in 2004.
Next month’s event should also mark co-driver Aaron Johnston’s first at the top level after he was replaced by Seb Marshall in the Arctic following a false-positive COVID-19 test.
Hyundai’s WRC2 line-up for Sardinia will comprise Jari Huttunen, Ole Christian Veiby and Italian ERC regular Andrea Crugnola who will make his category debut.
Solberg will contest his first WRC2 event on Rally Portugal in two weeks. His previous Rally2 WRC outings have been in WRC3 or as an unregistered competitor.