Petter Solberg was stressed. Very. Stressed. He’s spent a lifetime sitting in a rally car, but this was something new. Something completely new.
Harbourside in Monaco, the 2003 World Rally Champion was sitting in a rally car ready to leave for shakedown. His driver leaned over and asked that time they had to leave. An exasperated Solberg endeavoured to find the answer. When his driver passed him his crash helmet and HANS device to find a home for, the camel’s back was broken.
“I’m not sure about being a co-driver,” grimaced the Norwegian. There was a moment’s pause, before he added quietly: “Now I know why I never did it before.”
When Pirelli head of motorsport Mario Isola asked to see the pacenotes they made the day previously, Solberg started laughing.
“So many questions,” he said. “Everybody’s asking all of these questions and I don’t know. I’m the driver. Normally, I’m the driver and I want to drive.”
This time, no chance. Isola was doing the driving.
“Honestly, it’s good job DirtFish didn’t put the GoPro in the car when we were doing the recce last night- it would have made a very good movie!”
Recce done, now the reckoning.
The livery is stunning, celebrating Pirelli’s 150th year, and what a car for it to adorn…
The Kimera EVO37 is the brainchild of former Italian rally driver Luca Betti. It’s a modern day Lancia 037. Not a restoration, it’s an interpretation. It’s a completely new car; a tubular chassis wearing carbonfibre. The suspension philosophy remains the same as it was four decades ago, when Markku Alén was busy folding himself into the original Chivasso-built car.
The engine is pure 037 too. And as Isola turns it over, if you close your eyes you’re transported to precisely the same spot 39 years prior, when Walter Röhrl won the 1983 Monte Carlo Rally in a Martini-liveried 037.
And the engine sounds identical, because it is.
“We make the engine ourselves,” said Betti. “It’s like the original , but it’s new.”
New with all the right bits. Bits like a supercharger and a turbocharger. This was what stood the original car out from the crowd. And this is what is standing out in Solberg’s mind today.
“The car is quick,” he said. “And the road is narrow…”
It was Solberg’s moment to take revenge.
“Luckily my driver has lots of experience. He has done lots of rallies.”
Isola sports a thin smile.
“Five,” said the Italian. “I have done five rallies and now this.
“And he’s right. It is narrow. Very narrow.”
But before they even get to the start of the Sainte-Agnès – Peille shakedown stage, there’s a 15-mile road section from Monaco to complete.
Ready to go, Petter brings proceedings to a halt and calls his wife Pernilla over.
Expecting some romantic farewell, I stand back.
“Can you go and get the roadbook, please? I left it in my bag.”
Impressed, Petter winks.
“Don’t worry, we have a car to follow – I’m hoping I don’t need the roadbook!”
They didn’t. Instead they used the journey to relive old memories and past glories.
“You know, me and Mario have been friends for such a long time,” said Solberg. “He is quite the important guy now – but you know the best thing? He doesn’t change at all from when we were working together to win the world championship in 2003. He’s such a good guy.
“He will be even better guy if he gets us through the next two-and-a-half kilometres!”
The apprehension was writ large across Isola’s face, as the man himself explained.
“We were coming up the mountain to the start, and the road was covered in frost. Petter said to me: ‘Don’t worry about this, it’s nothing – the grip will still be there’. The next time we came to a patch like this, I was a little bit quicker and the car was straight away like this…”
Cue Mario making pizza using thin air.
“Petter said: ‘You were right! It’s like ice. I hope it’s not the same in the stage’. I told him: ‘Petter, I hope too…’”
Off the line, the Kimera rocked. With a pop and a bang, the spirit of the 037 was found once more.
The soundtrack was as good as the movie, and the ending of the movie was just perfect.
Crossing the line the pair breathed a sigh of relief and shared one word:
“Finished!”. The relief from both was palpable.
“F***k! I was so nervous,” Solberg admitted. “Mario did a fantastic job. Straight off the line I could feel the car moving and sliding, but he was really on top of the car. I’m very, very impressed. I know I was late with a couple of notes, but I hope I didn’t slow him down too much!”
Isola couldn’t stop smiling.
“I am so happy to bring this car to the finish,” he said. “Like you can see, the car is quite wide and the stage was so narrow! But now we are here. Honestly, I am so proud for Pirelli and so proud to carry this livery to mark our 150th birthday. It’s really a big moment.
“And I have to say a big thank you to Luca [Betti]. This car is fantastic. I think I want one…”
Solberg stepped forward. “I want one as well.”
Mrs Solberg smiled: “It sounds like we’re about to make another investment…”
With only 37 coming to market, the Kimera will make an exceptionally bankable asset.
The attraction and ability of the EVO37 is demonstrated by the fact that 40 years on, it came outrageously close to overshadowing the WRC’s new dawn.