A fresh-faced, blue-eyed blonde Norwegian stood on the top step of the podium in triumph, punching the air, grinning from ear to ear under his Pirelli cap. It was Petter Solberg, en route to winning the 2003 World Rally Championship, in his iconic blue Subaru.
Now, more than 15 years later, history might be about to repeat itself. Petter’s son Oliver is making his debut in the top class of the European Rally Championship, in a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, which will be fitted with Pirelli tyres. Both Solbergs have always been associated with Pirelli throughout their careers, with Oliver making a spectacular World Rally Car debut at the Bologna Motor Show aged just 16 at the end of 2017 – in a Pirelli-equipped Ford Fiesta WRC.
More than a year later, Oliver Solberg tackles Rally Liepaja in Latvia this weekend: the fastest event on the European calendar, with wide, mostly flat roads throughout. Several drivers have referred to it as the ‘Grand Prix of Latvia’ for this very reason. But despite the informal ‘Grand Prix’ nametag, it’s smooth gravel rather than asphalt from start to finish. That gravel is soft and slippery though, so it’s very easy to get caught out. Luckily, Oliver can rely on one of the top cars out there – with his dad Petter also using a Volkswagen Polo to finish on the WRC2 podium in Spain last year. Oliver will additionally be able to rely on the advice of an experienced team mate: Lukasz Habaj, leading the ERC drivers’ championship standings with Pirelli.