ERC1 Junior champion Q&A: Oliver Solberg


Oliver Solberg, 19, took the FIA ERC1 Junior Championship down to the season-deciding Rally Islas Canarias and overcame a six-point deficit to Grégoire Munster to clinch the crown after his 21-year-old was delayed on the opening stage of the event.

02 SOLBERG Oliver (SWE), JOHNSTON Aaron (IRL), Team Oliver Solberg, Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, ambiance Champion ERC 1 Junior during the 2020 Rally Islas Canarias, 5th round of the 2020 FIA European Rally Championship, from November 26 to 28, 2020 in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain – Photo Jorge Cunha / DPPI

But having won the category for young stars in Rally2 cars in Rome and Liepāja, the Swede was a deserving winner of the coveted title and the €100,000 FIA European Rally Championship career-progression grant on offer to the eventual champion.

Co-driven by Ireland’s Aaron Johnston, Solberg also challenged for the overall FIA European Rally Championship, eventually finishing in second place behind champion Alexey Lukyanuk**. This is what he had to say following his success in Las Palmas.

FIA ERC1 Junior champion for 2020, how good does that feel?
“For me it was an incredible season. The plan was mainly to get Tarmac experience but it all went quite well in Rome and Latvia and then we thought why not try to win the ERC1 Junior title and also try for the top championship. In Portugal we had some struggles with turbo issues and also the crash in shakedown so it was not perfect for the championship but, overall, it was a fantastic year and a lot of experience. To win the title for the first time is incredible.”

How tough was the competition?
“The competition is very tough with so tough competition from local guys and of course the regular guys from the championship doing every race. Managing to clinch the title and finishing second overall at the end after a difficult mid-season was fantastic.”

What have you learned this season?
“My career is all about getting experience. On gravel I feel good, that is fine. But on Tarmac it was the first time for me in ERC this year and for sure you need experience. Changing cars for different events, different conditions is quite difficult. Hungary was also the first time in the Škoda on Tarmac. It’s always something new to learn and get adapted to but it’s good experience for the future.”

Looking back, what was the highlight of ERC 2020 for you?
“Rome I enjoyed a lot, the first time on Tarmac, managing to get third overall and also building my pace to be fighting with the guys on the stages was fantastic. It was a really special event.”

And the low point?
“Portugal was a bad moment when I crashed in shakedown. But, in general, it was quite a good race because I was fighting at the top. We didn’t always make the best tyre choices so it was a 50/50 event I can call it. In Hungary I did not find the rhythm with the new car and didn’t find the pace. For me with my driving it was probably the worst race.”

You’ve mentioned the tough competition from drivers like Grégoire Munster but what’s your opinion of Alexey Lukyanuk, the driver who beat you to the overall title?
“He’s Colin McRae number two! I always look at his videos and I really admire his speed, his attack and his passion. I love racing against him but it’s not easy because he’s always fast wherever he goes. He’s always crazy and fast.”

What does the future hold for you?
“The ERC is definitely part of the career plan. It’s a fantastic championship with a lot of Tarmac that I need. It’s fantastic for the build-up of my career with a lot of fantastic races. I don’t know what will happen yet but it’s not long until the New Year so we have to get ready.”

Recent ERC1 Junior champions
2020: Oliver Solberg (Sweden)**
2019: Filip Mareš (Czech Republic)
2018: Nikolay Gryazin (Russia)
2017: Marijan Griebel (Germany)