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Safari followers had special place for youth; welcome Oliver Solberg, only 19

 

TOP: Oliver Solberg after being recruited by Hyundai. ABOVE: Oliver Solberg, previously mentored by Subaru, with famous former World Rally Champion father Petter Solberg

TOP: Oliver Solberg after being recruited by Hyundai. ABOVE: Oliver Solberg, previously mentored by Subaru, with famous former World Rally Champion father Petter Solberg (right)

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SWEDE Oliver Solberg, only 19, who will be competing in this year’s World Rally Championship (WRC) Safari Rally is already an instant attraction to the millions of Kenyan followers of the event.

Young drivers have historically captured attention. Home-bred ones were cheered on as they took on the might of overseas manufacturers teams’ entries. The ‘young bloods’ who enjoyed hero/heroine worship included Vic Preston Jnr, Ian Duncan, Lynda Morgan, Guy Jack, Arif Khan, Marco Brighetti, Tanveer Alam, Sammy Aslam, Baldev Chager et al.

Oliver Solberg in the Finland Rally 2021 action

Oliver Solberg in the Finland Rally 2021 action

Young Solberg will return the dream of the youth in the Safari. For him, it’s one [dream] come true; the fortune of being at the right place at the right time when [since 2002] the Safari (June 24-27) returns to the WRC calendar.

Oliver Solberg was not born when his father Petter Solberg debuted in the 1999 Safari Rally in a Ford Focus WRC. Aged only 24 and one of the youngest in the manufacturers’ team line-up Petter Solberg finished a credible fifth.

Vic Preston Jr, of Kenya had a Safari Rally debut aged 19. Below, in a Lancia Rallye in one of his many Safari entries

Naturally, Oliver grew up surrounded by racing machines and inspirational talks about rallying from dad but the Safari always elicited excitement and mystery. Now he is very happy to re-live his father’s tales.

“It is one of my dream races to do,” Oliver told a Facebook channel.

“My father has a lot of memories and stories and I have seen a lot of adventures that are there. I think it will be an amazing experience so for sure my dream is to go to the Safari Rally.”

Oliver, one of the fastest rising WRC drivers, is expected to drive in the WRC2 in a Hyundai R5. “He (my father) says it is one of the best places he has been,” said Oliver.

Ian Duncan, made his Safari Rally debut as a youngster, driving standard cars including panel vans and small pick-up trucks

Ian Duncan, made his Safari Rally debut as a youngster, driving standard cars including panel vans and small pick-up trucks

“I have also heard some crazy stories but we can’t take them [too seriously] and I think, hopefully, I can go there and I can get the same experience he got 20 years ago.”

Senior Solberg, the 2003 world champion, returned to Kenya in 2000 with Subaru World Rally Team and registered similar results of the previous year.

The 2000 Safari was held in open roads unlike the 2021 edition scheduled on closed roads. None-the-less Oliver thinks the Safari has not been diluted. “It will be very different now unlike in the past but still it is a great opportunity as my dad tells me of stages, fans, people everywhere, it is indeed incredible,” he said.

Lynda (nee' Morgan) Hughes, a daring yound woman in the Safari

Lynda (nee’ Morgan) Hughes, a daring young woman in the Safari

Oliver and Kalle Rovenpera, 20, of Finland are listed as the youngest drivers seamlessly fitting into their fathers’ big shoes. Kalle is the son of Harri Rovenpera, second in 2000 driving a Peugeot 206 WRC behind Tommi Makinen in a Mitsubishi Lancer EVO.

Both are on the verge of breaking a world record of the youngest WRC champions. His thought?

“In the closest future now, it is going to be a big fight between Kalle and I but we will see. It will be a very long way,” he said.

 

Kenya national rally champion Baldev Chager (left) and in action below, was a youngster when he made his debut in the Safari Rally

If you try to come into the WRC and give Kalle a challenge, I will for sure fight,” he said. “There also are many younger drivers coming up so for sure there’ll be a lot of new drivers in the WRC in the future giving everybody a huge fight. “

His future? “The goal, first of all, is hopefully I can be the champion in WRC 2 and in the future being a proper WRC driver with the manufacturers and try to take on the world champions.”

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