be_ixf;ym_202208 d_15; ct_100
Images of Oliver Solberg competing in the 2021 WRC of Monte Carlo

2021: Full Factory Solberg

Feb 032021

Imagine being 19 years old and having a full factory-backed rally drive in the WRC2 at your disposal. Well that’s the incredible position Oliver Solberg finds himself in, waiting at the start line of the 2021 season. With the ink drying on a two-year contract for Hyundai Motorsport, Oliver is exactly where he’s wanted to be ever since he could reach the pedals of a rally car.

“Even saying the words: I’m a Hyundai Motorsport driver…’ it just keeps making me smile,” explains Oliver. “I have a lot of people to thank for helping me to get to this point, of course my family and all of the team around me, but also Hyundai Motorsport team principal Andrea Adamo and team manager Alain Penasse. They have given me this incredible opportunity.

“But this is another step for me. It definitely feels like this is a new chapter. I have made the start to my career now this is the next part.”

The 19 year old will race in the full roster of WRC2 events this year, using the current specification Hyundai i20 R5 car. However once the Hyundai factory has finished development of the new generation i20 N Rally 2 car somewhere around the mid-season - if not before - Oliver will switch machinery and no doubt be at the leading edge of the class. Again.

Happily of all the changes ahead, one thing remains constant in the cockpit however. Teamed up with co-driver, Northern Irishman Aaron Johnston, the crew will be in good shape to double down on the wins and podiums achieved last season.

Johnston said: “I’ve loved and lived this sport for as long as I can remember and to be taking this step up with Oliver is amazing. Of course, I want to thank not just Hyundai Motorsport, but the Solberg family.

“I’ve co-driven for Oliver for the last two years and watched his progression – he’s a fantastic driver, but I honestly feel this is just the beginning of our adventure!”. Read on to find out Oliver’s thoughts on turning full factory, and just what it means to him to be on a proper career path to the infamous World Rally Championship…

"The dream and plan is to graduate to the full WRC - so of course everything is aimed at that goal in the future."

You’ve completed two very different rallies in the i20 now - with the Arctic rally and Monte Carlo - how much are you enjoying the car?

Oliver Solberg: “The car is not bad, not bad at all! Aaron and I are just getting to know it properly; it has been a hectic couple of weeks with the Monte test, then going to the Arctic Rally, and then going back to Monte Carlo for the full rally. It’s just been so super exciting to get those first rallies done. Between the two events there were all sorts of conditions - wet, ice, snow - basically everything; so it was a very interesting test for both me and the car for sure!” 

When you signed to Hyundai you said it was a dream to be driving for the reigning WRC championship manufacturer. Tell us a little more…

Oliver Solberg: “It’s what I’ve been working towards for so many years, to be a part of a proper factory team. You can’t get much closer than this. It’s a proper deal with a big future ahead. Hyundai have a good agenda for building up junior drivers. This is really what I’ve been dreaming of; to come into a programme where a manufacturer develops your experience and skills.”

Talk us through your two-year deal with Hyundai

Oliver Solberg: “There are a lot of exciting things in store. Unfortunately my contract means I can’t say too much at the moment, even though I’d like to! We’ve started the tests with the Rally2 car which will put us in a good place for the championship hopefully. The dream and plan is to graduate to the full WRC - so of course everything is aimed at that goal in the future. For the moment, the programme at Hyundai allows me to focus on my driving as much as possible, which is very exciting!”

"The car I’m using now, is just one to be driven temporarily, but as soon as the development of the Rally2 car is finished, we will be in that."

Why did Hyundai make the most sense for you?

Oliver Solberg: “I was lucky to get a few offers from different teams, but the Hyundai programme made the most sense for me in the long term. They are a huge manufacturer and a big team, and they really want to commit and go for it with me. The structure they have in place was exactly what I wanted - to work towards the WRC. So in that respect it was actually quite a simple choice!”

How does it differ as a platform compared to your previous cars?

Oliver Solberg: “It’s a very different car from what I have driven before. I think in the process of developing my experience as a driver, the more cars you can use, the more this broadens your ability. You are also able to bring more input to the engineers to help them understand what needs to be worked on to get faster. The car I’m using now, is just one to be driven temporarily, but as soon as the development of the Rally2 car is finished, we will be in that.”

And of course it’s a big step up that will help you develop your driving a great deal…

Oliver Solberg: “Of course, I’m focused on getting to know the car and to go as quickly as possible. But you know, I’ve got to focus a lot on learning all the different races on the calendar. The Monte Carlo Rally was on all new roads, so it was like starting from scratch. The same with Finland coming up - it’s a brand new race so there will be plenty of challenges in store, even without thinking about the new car. For sure I have more confidence going into this season compared to where I was at the beginning of last year. I’m still very young, so just need to take things step by step and learn as much as possible.”

You are running the car at some events with your family as well - what are you learning there and what input do Hyundai have?

Oliver Solberg: “For some races outside of the WRC we will run the car privately, by getting a car from Hyundai. But mainly all of the races that we will take part in will be run by a team from Hyundai. The world championship will be a factory effort by Hyundai. It's a fantastic learning experience for me to be able to cooperate so closely with the Hyundai engineers, and knowing how a team operates at this level, and not just be working with your Mum and Dad!”

Has the work flow between you and Aaron changed with the new car?

Oliver Solberg: “It was a dream for Aaron too - when we got the news about Hyundai; so he’s incredibly excited to get into the programme as well. Work-wise it doesn’t change. We do the same job as we’ve always done. That’s the good thing; Aaron and I have a strong relationship, and there is enough to learn already; so we are able to tackle it as a proper crew.”

Finally, what other highlights and challenges lie ahead, surely the title is the ultimate…

Oliver Solberg: “For sure the championship, but I have to be realistic about what we can achieve at this stage. It’s a very exciting year ahead, with many changes, and it’s a lot to take in. I will do my best with the car I have now until the new car comes along and that’s when the proper championship campaign can start… watch this space!”