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Family dream comes true as Solberg Jnr replaces Pierre-Louis for WRC Safari

Oliver was forced to withdraw from last week’s Rally Italia Sardegna after his father, the 2003 WRC champion Petter Solberg, tested positive for coronavirus.

In Summary

•Oliver was gearing up for his second top-flight World Rally Championship outing with Hyundai at last weekend's s Italian event.

•With a father and a mother from a well-known Swedish motorsport family and a former Production WRC competitor in her own right, there was a sense of inevitability that a career at the wheel was inevitable for Oliver Solberg.  ​Solberg’s early years were spent racing in cross-arts.

Oliver Solberg gestures at past rally championships.
Oliver Solberg gestures at past rally championships.
Image: COURTESY

Hyundai Motorsport World Rally Team has made a change to its WRC2 team for Safari replacing Pierre-Louis Loubet with 19-year-old Oliver Solberg.

The change of crew hands young Solberg an opportunity to resume his family dream on the fabled Safari which was first held from 27 May to 1 June 1953 as the East African Coronation Safari in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika as a celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Solberg Senior finished the WRC Safari 5th in the 1999 and 2000 editions driving a Ford Focus and navigated by his eventual Championship-winning navigator Phil Mills.

In 2000 and 2002, Petter retired in Safari after he lost a wheel and suffered engine gremlins on both occasions. Oliver was forced to withdraw from last week’s Rally Italia Sardegna after his father, the 2003 WRC champion Petter Solberg, tested positive for coronavirus.

Oliver was gearing up for his second top-flight World Rally Championship outing with Hyundai at last weekend's s Italian event.

However, having been in contact with his father, Oliver was compelled to remain in quarantine in a hotel in Porto for 14 days as per the FIA Appendix S regulations. The FIA’s Appendix S Covid-19 protocol and national government regulations offer clear quarantine instructions for those in close contact.

“You can imagine, I am more than disappointed by this news. I am a little bit devastated,” The 19-year-old Solberg told www.motorsport.com last week.

Oliver Solberg powers his Hyundai rally car through a snowy terrain in a past rally championships.
Oliver Solberg powers his Hyundai rally car through a snowy terrain in a past rally championships.
Image: COURTESY

WRC Safari Rally secretary Helen Shiri confirmed Oliver's Safari participation saying: "Hyundai WRC 2 team car number 7 has changed the crew from driver Pierre-Lous and co-driver Florian Haut-labourdette both from France to Oliver Solberg (Swedish) and  Co-driver Aaron Johnston (Ireland). The car, a Hyundai i20 Coupé, remains intact."

Meanwhile, it's been a meteoric rise for the son of world champion Petter. Less than two years after his maiden rally in a four-wheel-drive car, the teenage sensation was competing at the WRC’s top level.

Aged just 17, Oliver became the youngest winner of a European Championship rally in 2019.

With a father and a mother from a well-known Swedish motorsport family and a former Production WRC competitor in her own right, there was a sense of inevitability that a career at the wheel was inevitable for Oliver Solberg.  ​Solberg’s early years were spent racing in cross-arts.

In 2012, he won the Norwegian Championship before a step up to a higher class brought consecutive title wins in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

In 2019 Solberg stepped into R5 machinery, driving a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 in the Latvian/Estonian/Baltic Rally Championship. He took to the increased power immediately and racked up five class wins on his way to the championship title.

He also followed in his father's footsteps to join Subaru Motorsports USA. He drove a latest-spec Impreza STI, winning three of the six rounds​After making his WRC debut at the 2019 Rally GB, Solberg stepped into a full WRC campaign in 2020, driving his own Polo R5 alongside a partial campaign with Skoda Motorsport.

The WRC returns to Africa for the first time since 2002. The Safari of old has evolved to fit the modern-day WRC, but its character remains with challenging closed dirt roads, stunning picture-postcard scenery, and exotic wildlife.

Competitors can expect rocky and rutted tracks and unpredictable weather which could transform dry and dusty trails into glutinous mudbaths. KCB Bank Kenya and Toyota Kenya are co-sponsoring the WRC Safari Rally to a tune of Sh100m and Sh30m respectively.