"My ultimate dream is to be a world champion, just like my father," said Hyundai Motorsport star Oliver Solberg, who is in the country to take part in the sixth leg of the World Rally Championships (WRC) series, the Safari Rally, set for this week in Naivasha.
The youngster will be out to finish the job that his father, Petter, started in the 1990s but failed to complete after ending the showpiece in Kenya in fifth both in 1999 and 2000 before clinching the WRC championships in 2003.
Despite his lofty dream, the 20-year-old admits he is struggling to be his own person in the sport, away from Petter’s shadow.
“My father was one of the best in the trade. It will be so difficult to fit into his shoes,” Solberg said yesterday.
Solberg, who arrived on Friday, admitted he has lowered his expectations in the Safari Rally, which he termed as the toughest motorsports event on earth.
The Hyundai driver crashed out last season, smoking out his dream of a podium finish.
“I now have a bit of experience on what to expect in Kenya. I know that Safari Rally is not a joke, it’s a difficult event, the routes are very tough," he said.
“I just want to get my rhythm right, get going, get through it and finish the rally which is my target here. I don’t want to crash out like it happened last year."
Solberg said the rally will be much tougher this season and more difficult to navigate due to the incessant rains in Naivasha.
“The roads will be worse than last season, probably many cars are going to retire in the first loop of the opening day. I can easily tell that there will be a lot of challenges this week for sure, so we have to be clever on the routes,” he said.
While warning the 363.5 km route won’t be a walk for the new hybrid cars, Solberg said Safari Rally is all about survival and that drivers should take control of their speed.
“The bumps, the racks and roughs will be hard on the new hybrid cars, but we hope things will turn out well. I just want to drive clean and stay away from any trouble in the rally,” he said.
Despite crashing out, Solberg appreciates the nostalgic memories he had in the Safari Rally last season saying he still remembers the amazing animals he saw while cruising in the parks and conservancies.
“There were amazing people, passionate fans and the rally was so free. It was so open. This kind of thing really brings in the kick into the game,” he said.
Does he feel any pressure to perform in this year’s Safari Rally?
“You know, I’m the youngest driver in this year's race, they have to beat me. If I beat them, it won’t feel good. I don’t have any pressure to perform, I’m here to drive and enjoy the race,” he said.
At the same time, Solberg heaped praise on his Hyundai teammates Ott Tanak, Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville, who he said are his guiding stars in the trade.
“I’m just glad to be surrounded by drivers with a lot of experience, we have a good team atmosphere. We always try to learn different tricks about our new Hyundai i20 N Rally1 car, especially in the races that are quite new to me," he said.
“As team members, we also have our own inside rivalry to see who is the finest driver of all, but I’m not there to beat them. I’m there to learn and have a good relationship with them."