Speedway, Indiana (March 11, 2019)
Last month, Subaru Motorsports USA announced a new addition to their driver roster, a developing rally phenom named Oliver Solberg. The 17 year old racing talent, and son of Subaru World Rally Team legend Petter Solberg, will drive at 6 American Rally Association (ARA) events in 2019 with the team, all of them part of the National Rally Championship Present by AMSOIL.
Coming from Swedish and Norwegian heritage, Solberg has been driving since he was able to stand and has built himself a world class racing pedigree since then. In 2017 at age 15, Solberg became the youngest driver to ever start a Rallycross Supercar when he took 3rd place at a Nordic RX event. He has made multiple appearances at Nordic RX and World RX events since then.
“I really enjoyed RallyX Nordic last year,” said Solberg. “Who wouldn’t enjoy driving a car with 600bhp?! But rallying has always been my absolute passion. To be honest, I don’t think so much of the age thing. For me, it’s got in the way a little bit.”
Solberg also began his stage rally career in 2017 by driving an R2-spec vehicle in the Baltics. In 2019, he joined up with veteran co-driver Aaron Johnston and stepped into an R5-spec vehicle for the first time. So far this year, the pair have won both of their Latvian rally outings. The quick rise through the ranks has been exciting for Solberg, but it’s also part of a larger development plan for the young driver.
“One of the reasons I started driving the front-wheel drive car is because we knew that the driving style was similar to four-wheel drive – it’s about keeping the car straight and carrying the speed. I’ve got to be honest and say the R5 car I won the first two rallies of the year in is definitely easier to drive than the R2 car. You have more power, more grip, more everything – it’s more straightforward to get the car to do what you want it to do. But… I still say that driving the R2 car first was a really important way into the R5 car for me. I’d do it again like that.”
In addition to his racing efforts, Solberg has also been involved in the production of several entertainment properties. A documentary about his driver development called Born 2 Drive was released last month. In addition to that, he had a supporting role in Ken Block’s Gymkahana X. Solberg also provided his insights to game developer Codemasters during the creation of the rally simulator Dirt Rally 2.0.
Solberg was first put in contact with Subaru Motorsports USA last year at the Canadian round of the World RX championship. Last November, the team invited him to a testing session where he impressed Subaru management. Solberg is excited to be a part of the team and sees rallying in America as an opportunity to learn and sharpen his driving skills.
“Right now I have no experience driving a four-wheel drive car on gravel. Zero. I never did it! So to have the opportunity to drive a great car like the WRX STI on so many different kinds of roads is really useful for me getting more experience.”
Defending ARA champions David Higgins and Craig Drew will be Solberg’s teammate’s for the 2019 season. For a developing driver, having a more experienced teammate is a huge opportunity to learn. As he reiterated many times during our talk, Solberg is taking this season to gain experience. As a result, he’s not looking to dethrone his teammate any time soon.
“When you have a teammate like David [Higgins], who is so quick and has so much knowledge of the cars and most of the rallies, it’s not so clever to be thinking about winning the title in my first year! Like I said, I want experience. The WRX STI is a different car to the ones I’ve been driving, it’s bigger, there’s more aero – lots to learn about and that’s what this year’s all about for me.”
Solberg has been reading up on American rally events since joining with Subaru. He’s excited about the variety of locations and stage roads he will get to see this season, starting with the 100 Acre Wood Rally this week.
“The thing about rallying in America is that every event is so different. I’m looking forward to seeing the variety of roads and different events. Somebody told me once that America could host a World Rally Championship itself – that’s how many different types of rallies it has. I’m looking forward to that.”
The move to Subaru is an exciting one for Solberg and, in a way, it’s the continuation of a family legacy. His father, Petter Solberg, drove with the Subaru World Rally Team from 2000 until the team’s withdrawal from the World Rally Championship after the 2008 season. In 2003, he became the last person not named Sebastien to win the WRC driver’s championship title; and he did it in a blue and gold Subaru. For 2019, the Subaru Motorsports USA team will run the company livery on a stage car for the first time in a decade.
“It’s a little bit crazy. Ever since I can remember I was obsessed with the blue and yellow of Subaru – I remember everything from my dad’s career with the team and to have this opportunity to drive in the same colors for the same team and almost the same car is like a dream for me.”
See Solberg and 74 other drivers take on the 100 Acre Wood Rally this weekend from March 15-16 in Potosi, Salem, and Steelville in Missouri. More information on the event, including how to spectate, can be found at americanrallyassociation.org/100aw.
Photo Credit: Oliver Solberg (Top), Hoonigan (1), Subaru Motorsports USA (2)