Hyundai Motorsport team principal Andrea Adamo is, as you know well by now, rarely wrong. On this one, he’s absolutely right. Oliver Solberg absolutely and definitely cannot be squeezed like an orange.
It’s the last thing the 19-year-old would need on the eve of his first time driving a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. What he will need and what he’ll be very grateful for is the Italian’s metaphorical arm around his shoulder.
The arm’s metaphorical, of course, only in these coronavirus-regulated times. Ordinarily, it would be big bear hugs all around.
Talking to Solberg mid-trip from home in Sweden to Santa’s place in Finland’s far north, it’s impossible not to be caught up in a teenager realizing his dream. Oliver’s grown up to a background of professional motorsport and it shows. In a very good way.
Dialling Oliver’s number, it’s hooked up to the car. The 2003 World Rally Champion, his father Petter, answers. It’s increasingly difficult to tell the two apart in terms of tone and take on stuff.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing managed about Oliver’s media front; his chat comes directly from the heart and is punctuated by passion that’s pure Petter.
Discussing the days ahead, Oliver’s relaxed and sounding like his decade ago self the night before Christmas.
“I’m so excited,” he says. Again.
And so are we. Aren’t we? Let’s face it, Solberg’s arrival has been special. Winning a rallycross round as a 16-year-old in charge of 600bhp; winning in America; making European Rally Championship history and then those stages in Monte Carlo last month.
In a make-believe rally made up of just stage 11 and 12 on round one (Solberg’s best performances), he would have been fourth overall across a total of 19.41 miles – just a fraction short of half a minute down on eight-time Monte winner Sébastien Ogier.
Yes, the conditions evolved, likely improving for the Hyundai i20 R5 driver compared to the WRC cars checking in ahead of him. But his motor was one gear and a good 100bhp down on the three cars ahead. And that’s before we talk aero and fiddly transmission bits.
Put short, Solberg had no business sitting so close to the sharp end. But his arrival there has raised expectations.
It also raised the specter of somebody squeezing him. Like an orange. But they’ll have to get past Adamo first.
Fancy trying that? Thought not.
He has to enjoy what he’s doing. I mean ******* hell, he is so young!Andrea Adamo
Our friend Andrea takes on his very serious, ‘DirtFish, listen to me, this is an important bit’ tone.
“The first thing he needs in this moment…” begins Adamo, drawing us in to wonder what is the most important thing Oliver Solberg has to do when he first sits aboard a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC?
Suitable engine map for the conditions? Understand the aero grip? Work on the brake bias?
None of the above.
“He has to enjoy what he’s doing,” is the answer. “I mean ******* hell, he is so young! We have to remember he is 19 and just at the end of his teenage time and we need to get the best out of his enjoyment and I will be supporting him in this.
“We cannot squeeze him like an orange.”
Absolutely not. Juicers beware.
Joking aside, Adamo’s thinking is spot on. Keep everything in perspective. This is the start of a long road for Solberg.
“It’s clear, that someone at this level is focusing to win the title one day. But you cannot pretend to make steps longer than your legs, if we squeeze him we will find his passion drying too soon and this we can’t have.
“I think he is surrounded by very clever, smart people and I really enjoy time with his family – you can see the smartness shine through. But he is also a nice guy, I really like his approach to the sport.
“And he is much better than me because he smiles much more than me!”
But still, installing Solberg in a 2C Competition-run Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC is a big step. It was and is, of course, an entirely sensible progression. But the DirtFish bets were on the Swede making his World Rally Car debut at the Adamo Grand Prix – also known by its official name, Rally di Alba – in June.
“I had the idea during Monte Carlo,” said Adamo. “And if you want things to happen, things to move, then you have to make them move. If you are scared of the next move then you will never win. I tell him not to be scared, there’s no pressure – I’m there to protect him from the pressure – and all I want from him is a smile to show he’s enjoying it.
“I will be with him on the test and I will be with him on the rally. He has to enjoy this.”
Anything’s preferable to being squeezed like an orange.