Oliver Solberg [photo courtesy]

Solberg Jnr was forced to withdraw from the Italian rally the other weekend after his father and former WRC champion Petter tested positive for Covid-19.

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 swap of crew hands young Solberg an opportunity to continue his family dream on the fabled Safari which was first held from May 27 to June 1, 1953 as an East African coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Solberg’s father, Petter, finished the 1999 and 2000 Safari editions fifth while driving a Ford Focus.

Petter was navigated by his eventual Championship-winning navigator Phil Mills.

In 2000 and 2002, Petter was forced to retire early in the Safari after losing wheels and suffering engine gremlins on both occasions.

He went ahead to win the 2003 WRC championship.

Two weeks ago, Petter tested positive for coronavirus and this forced his son Solberg to withdraw from the 2021 WRC Italian leg held in Sardegna.

 Solberg was gearing up for his second top-flight WRC outing with Hyundai at the Italian event.

However having been in contact with his father, he was compelled to remain in quarantine in a hotel in Porto for 14 days as per the FIA Appendix S regulations.

The FIA Covid-19 protocols and the national government regulations offer clear quarantine instructions for those in close contact with the infected.

“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.

WRC Safari Rally Event Secretary Helen Shiri confirmed Solberg’s Safari participation saying: “Hyundai WRC 2 team car number 7 has changed the crew from Driver Pierre-Louis 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 a former world champion.

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.

At age 17, Solberg 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 Solberg. 

Solberg early years were spent racing in crosskarts.

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 Solber 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,  Solber 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 Sh.100m and Sh30m respectively.

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