It’s unusual for a Solberg to fly under the radar, but that’s exactly what Oliver Solberg managed on the first day of the Monza Rally.
After seven stages, Solberg is fifth overall and has only once featured outside the top five in the stage results. To put that into context, Solberg was never higher than sixth overall on Arctic Rally Finland – and his performance there was rightfully lauded as epic.
“It’s been fantastic,” Solberg told DirtFish.
“Fifth overall, much better than I expected on Tarmac. You know it seems like experience helps, I’ve been here before so I’m happy and I think fighting with my team-mates, it’s fantastic.”
Solberg finished seventh on last year’s Monza Rally in a Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo, but there is still plenty for him to learn this time around.
It’s his fourth WRC start in a 2C Competition-run Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, and he has his fourth different co-driver of the year in Elliott Edmondson. The partnership looks to have got off to a good start, but Solberg did confess he’s looking forward to things being simpler in 2022 when he’ll be a fully fledged Hyundai Motorsport driver in the top class.
“[I’ve had] new co-drivers, new cars, new teams all the time this year so it’s great to get a bit of consistency now with one set co-driver, one set car, one set team – it all helps,” he said.
Solberg’s boss Andrea Adamo is suitably “impressed” by what he’s seen.
“I thought he would have been fast but more close to the end of the rally, because I think he had quite difficult rallies,” he admitted.
“But it also means the approach taken to let him stay in the car more and more and get confidence is paying back, and it is what we have done in Catalunya where he was really approaching in a very conservative way which was what we asked him to do after some accidents before in the season.
“And today, he has done I think a good rally so far.”
However what makes Solberg’s superlative drive even more impressive is that he’s produced it while harboring a minor issue.
It’s impressive on two counts: firstly because he’s not let it hamper his times or distract him (a lairy moment into a ditch on SS3 which Solberg admitted he was “very lucky” to escape from aside), and he’s not complained about it to the stage-end reporters either which will impress Hyundai’s big wigs.
Solberg only described the problem as “a small issue”.
“It’s a shifting issue, both up and down,” he revealed. “So we’re just trying to drive as good as we can. It affects me a little bit but I’m doing my best.
“Up it’s OK, it’s down [that’s the problem],” he added. “You have to brake a bit earlier because you don’t know if it’s going to shift down properly or not.
“It’s selecting the gears but later than when I’m doing it.”
The 2C Competition mechanics will change the gearbox overnight which will hopefully cure Solberg’s niggle.
With a fully operational Hyundai, it will be fascinating to see what Solberg is capable of on Saturday.