28 January 2020 ~ 0 Comments

Solberg and Polo GTI R5 slide into impressive Rallye Monte-Carlo debut



Norwegian up-and-coming rally star Oliver Solberg took on the 2020 Rallye Monte-Carlo in a Polo GTI R5 and although his participation was just to gain experience during his first tarmac event, the son of rallying and rallycross ace Petter Solberg posted hugely impressive times in his Monster Energy-backed Volkswagen.

The 18-year-old is a seasoned Polo GTI R5 helmsman, having contested numerous European Rally Championship events last season. Along with co-driver Aaron Johnston, Solberg took a hat-trick of titles in 2019 (Latvia Rally champion, the Baltic Rally Trophy and an Estonian class win) aboard the Polo GTI R5. The pair also took on Wales Rally GB, their first World Rally Championship (WRC) event.

A measured approach
For the 189-mile Monte test (23-26 January), a measured approach was the order of the day. Safe tyre choices and sensible lines translated into gained knowledge and experience, but there were still respectable pace. The Monster Energy Polo posted a third fastest R5 class time on the second run at the Cubans – Venterol test, but later clipped a kerb with the left-rear wheel, the ever-eager Solberg revelling in his and Johnston’s first running of the legendary event. It was one of the event’s lessons given to the young driver.

‘Even when I hit the kerb, at literally walking speed, I learned so much. I used the handbrake to rotate the car, but on the ice it slid too far. The wheel hit the kerb at a really low speed, but at the wrong angle. We broke a bolt in the suspension and had to stop and make the repair ourselves. I always said I wasn’t coming here for the race, I was coming here to learn and I have learned so much!’ As well as the knowledge the duo took away, they finished 16th in the WRC2 class and 25th overall.

A particular highlight was the stage over the infamous Col de Turini. ‘Like every rally fan, for my whole life I watched cars coming over this incredible mountain road and to be there, to drive through that atmosphere with so many fans was just unbelievable. I’ll never forget it.’

‘Just incredible’
The Norwegian superstar-in-waiting really enjoyed his first Monte, which took place in a range of ever-changing weather conditions. ‘Everything everybody told me about the Monte was true. It is such a difficult rally. So difficult! Everything we did on this event was new. I’ve never competed on tarmac before, everything we had done in the previous years had been getting ready for gravel rallies – which are the ones we will be doing most. We had a test before this event, but when we came to these conditions it was just incredible.

‘Everybody said we would be on the wrong tyres for a lot of the time and this was exactly how it was. We were on the ice tyres for a long time on Saturday morning, doing these huge slides as the studs have no grip on the dry asphalt. All the time I was thinking: “Is this right?” And then you come to the full ice and snow and the tyre is perfect. Then you think: “Yes! This is right!”

‘It was a real compromise of everything, but you have to come here to learn that and if you go to the ditch on the first day then you learn nothing. Sometimes I was maybe wanting to push a little bit harder, but I knew there was too much at risk. The problem is, I can’t wait another 12 months to come back – I want to go and do it all again now.’

Solberg Junior will pilot the Polo GTI R5 on more rallies during 2020, but will also slip behind the wheel of a works Škoda Motorsport-supported Fabia Rally2 evo for three of the season’s rounds. The Norwegian’s Fabia-ulous WRC assault starts at Rally Sweden on 13 February. ‘We will still drive the Polo on some rounds,’ said Solberg, who made his WRC debut at Wales Rally GB in October 2019. ‘The main thing for me now is to try to make experience on as many WRC rounds as possible this year.’

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