That sensational drive on Arctic Rally Finland feels like a very long time ago doesn’t it? Oliver Solberg could walk on water after that debut World Rally Car performance, but the ice is breaking and he’s begun to fall through the cracks ever since.
It hasn’t all been Solberg’s fault. There have been some driving errors – a premature ending on last year’s Safari and a big crash in Finland followed by another accident in Greece the chief culprits.
But the 20-year-old has had plenty of misfortune too. Remember that cruel final day retirement due to electrical problems on the Hyundai i20 N Rally2’s debut in Ypres? Or the overheated engine in Estonia? And of course the exhaust fumes that left him and co-driver Elliott Edmondson as sick as dogs on this year’s Monte.
Even the fiery exit to Rally Croatia was a very high price to pay for the mistake at hand.
But what happened to Solberg last weekend really took the biscuit – winning at Höljes against the likes of four-time world champion Johan Kristoffersson on arguably the biggest rallycross weekend of the year (the Magic Weekend) before having that stripped from him due to a technical infringement.
Solberg simply didn’t deserve it. He cannot buy a break at the moment, even if they were for sale.
The Solberg family of course has storied history in rallycross. It’s actually where Oliver achieved his first big success behind the wheel – winning the 2018 RallyX Nordic title – and Petter won the very first World Rallycross Championship in 2014 and doubled up a year later.
But, having not driven a rallycross Supercar since taking third place at the All-Star Magic Weekend in 2020 and never driving the Hedström Motorsport Hyundai i20 in competition before, it was some task for Oliver to jump back into rallycross and be competitive.
Yet it was his name that stood proudly at the top of the timesheets after Q1, and stayed there to lead the intermediate standings overnight on Saturday.
Solberg was eventually usurped by European Rallycross Championship leader Anton Marklund to top qualifying, but he remained second and duly swept his semifinal to line up at the front of the final – where he did a fantastic job to compete, let alone win.
“Just before the final something happened with the steering,” Solberg explained.
“When I went into service everything was fine and when I went out of service I turned the steering left and the car went to the right.
“Something happened with the steering rack unfortunately and I thought that was game over, but in the final I thought ‘it is what it is, we do our best’ and somehow I drove with it and it worked OK.”
The emotion at the end was as infectious as it was obvious. Just like Petter had jumped into Pernilla’s arms when he won the 2003 World Rally Championship title, Oliver leapt onto his dad Petter and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Oliver hadn’t won anything since Rally di Alba last year, but that was a massive testing session where he was essentially handed the win by team-mate Ott Tänak. Before that, you have to go back to Rally Estonia for Solberg’s last category win when he topped the WRC2 class.
So for him to win at Höljes – a track Petter never managed to conquer at the top level – and beat so many good drivers (yes Kristoffersson had a puncture and Andreas Bakkerud had a suspension problem, but Solberg was ahead of him) was an immense confidence-booster and a very timely reminder of Solberg’s raw talent.
“It’s the biggest relief of my life, for a very, very long time,” he said.
“It means very, very much. I was in tears, I’ve never cried before like that, all of a sudden the feeling came. I think it’s been building a lot inside and to finally release it… it was a very big relief.
“It’s just fantastic to do this with me and my father and my mother as well.”
The disqualification was, by the letter of the law, totally just. But it was a totally unjust reward for a driver who had given it his all to achieve a huge result – particularly when the underbody was overweight – not underweight – so if anything Solberg was disadvantaged by the infringement.
All that can be hoped is that this latest twist doesn’t add to the building narrative. There have been plenty that have begun to question Solberg’s abilities. After all, his recent run of WRC form hasn’t exactly lived up to some of the hype.
But the context absolutely has to be remembered – and considered. Hyundai, with all of the internal uncertainty at the moment, is currently the worst place for any younger driver to find themselves. Solberg doesn’t have the best tool to show the world the very best of himself, and doesn’t have the relaxed atmosphere to soothe his growth either.
With the pressure off and the expectation lowered, Solberg flourished in Euro RX. The difference that change in circumstance made was obvious.
“I’ve always loved rallycross but WRC is what’s closest to my heart, but it’s been a very tough time, and a long way up, but we are still fighting,” said Solberg.
“I think it was important for me this weekend to just do something else and just enjoy at home with family and have some fun in the car, and I had a big smile on my face all weekend driving the car.
“It was a fantastic feeling and now hopefully we can keep this going and bring this confidence into the WRC as well. I feel very good so hopefully everything around now can work very well.”
Solberg described his disqualification as “heartbreak” and it’s hard to think of a better word for it. But he’s vowed to put all of his energy into capturing the positives from the weekend rather than letting the result get him down. At least Rally Estonia is up next – a happy hunting ground for Solberg in the past.
But regardless of what’s happened of late, let Solberg’s one-off rallycross return be the proof of his true capabilities. With all things level, he can absolutely perform. Give him time in the WRC, and he should do the same.