I’m guessing that a lot of you out there look up to your fathers, and some of you have even followed in their footsteps in some way or another. In which case, you can compare yourselves to 17-year-old Oliver Solberg, son of 2003 World Rally Championship winner and bona fide driving legend, Petter Solberg. Oliver’s gone in to the family business and is doing really rather well.
At this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed the father and son duo were out in force on both the famous hill climb and the rally stage.
Now, at Goodwood, journalists are occasionally invited for a run in a car with someone bright and shiny to give an impression of what it’s like to ride shotgun at high speed. I was popped in a 2019 Subaru WRX STI Open Class Rally car on the rally stage with Oliver, who doesn’t have a license to drive on the road, to see just how good he is.
The car is, as you’d expect, a hugely impressive bit of kit. Its turbocharged boxer motor kicks out 330 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, the interior is stripped out to within an inch of its life, its brakes, clutch, tires, suspension, differentials, transmission… everything are designed to take the kind of abuse a hardcore rally driver can throw at them.
Naturally, it’s also bright blue.
I clambered in and shook Oliver’s hand. Now, at 17 years old I would have balked at the idea of a soft, bald adult coming in to my place of work and trying to make small talk with me (actually, as a 33-year-old that’s still true), but he was super chill. Considering he recently won the European Rally Championship’s Rally Liepaja’s highest class recently, got his first overall rally win in January, and was crowned RalyX Nordic Champion in 2018, his calmness is doubly impressive.
That morning he’d been giving ride after ride, and had probably shaken hands with millions of other people awkwardly stuffed in to race suits by the time I rocked up and had my fat ass strapped down. He’s a charming guy, happy to shoot the shit and answer any question you may have.
Standard chat about “tough day at the office” and “beats working for a living” followed as we rolled up to the start line, where I was optimistically given pace notes for the course that Solberg knew like the back of his hand.
I asked if he needed my input, and he politely declined.
Then, when it was our turn to go, the kid unleashed hell. The car flew over the rough stuff, juddering me around like I was a sack of jello, but Oliver remained calm. As we approached a tight right hander he said “this one’s slippery,” and proceeded to do a sodding massive skid. Same with the next.
We chatted as casually as I could muster. He didn’t seem to be trying to do this stuff, it was as second nature to him as scratching my ass is to me. I was alternating between giggling like a happy infant and being overwhelmed by how quickly we were going.
The car is incredible, its driver disgustingly talented. I got out of the car at the other end feeling old, fat, talentless, and slow. Oliver happily went for another run, clearly enjoying his summer holidays.
Later that day I caught up with Oliver and his father for a chat. Petter knows the dangers of what his son is getting himself in to, so was naturally apprehensive early in Oliver’s career.
“It’s getting better now, but the first times since he was 15 and doing rally… I was shit-scared, to be honest with you,” the elder Solberg told me. “I didn’t watch him.” Having won the 2003 WRC championship, innumerable fans for his over-the-top style while winning yet more WRC rallies, been crowned WRX champion in 2014 and 2015, and been competing in motorsport since his teens, when something worries him you know it’s a big deal.
While Petter was scared, Oliver’s mother, rally driver Pernilla Solberg, egged him on from the start. “She is more crazy than me,” Petter admitted. “She’s a rally driver. She was co-driving for him the first test.”
Oliver added: “She was co-driving, she was my spotter in rally cross. She has no nerves. She doesn’t push me, she helps me.”
Petter is used to nattering with journalists and fans, and is hugely engaging. Oliver is just the same: funny, charming, smart, and cool as they come.
The pair are obviously close. Petter looks at his son with proud eyes, seeing that his boy is as good off track with the press and sponsorship stuff as he is on with a gas pedal under his right foot.
Petter admits that he can be tough on Oliver when it comes to advice on track, but that it’s a two-way street as well. Oliver’s advice means something to him: “Me and Oliver are very, very close, and he has also helped me many times when I’ve been doing rallycross,” he said. “It’s about respect, not about age.”
Petter knows it’s a tough job, admitting that he missed a lot of Oliver’s childhood because he was out racing professionally. Now though the pair seem thick as thieves, and ready to take on the world. Oliver, publicly at least, loves driving above all else.
In his two days off in a busy month of motorsport, the younger Solberg was supposed to be getting some R&R, but instead went testing with a friend and quad biking. The motorsport apple seems to have fallen right under the tree.
In Sunday’s Shootout on Goodwood’s hill climb Oliver drove his Citroën DS3 WRX car to its very limits. Sliding around corners, making plenty of noise, and wowing the crowds. For a spell he was top of the rankings, that is until his father and then Romain Dumas in the VW ID.R appeared to knock him down to a hugely respectable third place. Check the video below.
From riding shotgun with him (and his impressive performances on the stages of the world) it’s clear Oliver has a pretty special talent. I’ll place $10 that we’re going to be seeing a lot more of him in the coming years. How his dad’s nerves will handle it, I can’t say.