Like father, like son: Why Oliver Solberg is on track for WRC greatness

What’s it like to take up a sport your dad had so much success in? The young Swede explains

Rally drivers, just like the policemen they try to avoid on road sections, are getting younger. Look at it this way: Hannu Mikkola was 41 when he claimed the 1983 world rally title, making him the oldest world champion in the history of the sport.

The oldest champion in the 1990s was Didier Auriol, clinching the 1994 world title aged 36. Marcus Gronholm, who won the 2000 title, was aged 32 when he did so – remarkably in his first full season of the championship.

Even Sebastien Ogier, known as the young pretender to Sebastien Loeb’s throne, was just a couple of months off his 30 th birthday when he secured his debut title in 2013. After him, the next ‘new’ champion was Ott Tanak in 2019, who was also aged over 30.

But these days, drivers are aiming to hit the top at a much younger age. The question is, who will break Colin McRae’s 1995 record of becoming the youngest world champion in the history of the sport, aged 27?

In December last year, Sweden’s Oliver Solberg announced that he had signed a two-year deal with Hyundai to compete in the WRC2 category of the World Rally Championship – one rung below the headlining class – driving an i20 R5.

Barely two months later the 19-year-old was already making his debut in a full fat World Rally Car, on Arctic Rally Finland: round two of the championship. He finished seventh overall – just missing out on sixth – after posting six top-five stage times.

It was hardly ideal circumstances. He got a late call to do the event, and his regular co-driver Aaron Johnston was sidelined by a positive Covid-19 test the day before they were due to start the recce.

“It was a bit hectic!” says Oliver, with characteristic understatement. “But I was just so happy to drive that car and really pleased with how the rally went, although I think it could have gone better.”

Perhaps the surprising thing is that Oliver has ‘only’ done 42 rallies of any description throughout his career to date. Although he’s perceived as a youngster on the way up, he’s still relatively light on experience at the very top level.

That’s why he believes that the frequent comparison with Kalle Rovanpera, a year older than him and a Toyota WRC factory driver (as well as being another son of a famous father) isn’t a valid one. Yet.

“We’re not competing against each other at the moment,” says Oliver – but he can’t resist adding “although I was faster than him on a few stages at the Arctic Rally.”

That’s the innate competitor in Oliver: a direct inheritance from his 2003 world champion father Petter. In fairness, Oliver also points out: “The Arctic was a brand-new rally for everyone. In other places it might be a different story.”