World Rally Championship WRC2 challenger Oliver Solberg is eager to build on the strengths he showed this season in the second tier of international rallying,

“The same as this year,” the 22 year-old Skoda Fabia RS Rally2 driver said confidently when asked about his expectations. “The speed and the experience is definitely there. I want to try and be world champion. It’s simple.”

Ranking sixth in this year’s WRC2 standings, Solberg — son of 2003 WRC champion Petter Solberg — bookended his season with victories in the season-opening Rally Sweden as well as Rally Chile. Keen to prove to the world that he was, in fact, the fastest driver in the classification, Solberg did just that, easily winning the most stages in 2023 WRC2 competition.

Now he’s looking to build on that…after a stint playing Santa.

“Well, right now I’m in Sweden and in the workshop making Christmas gifts for all of the sponsors and everyone,” he related. “The sponsors help me and then I can do something nice back for them.”

Solberg has admitted boredom sets in for him during the offseason, but says he’s learning to make the most of the time away.

“It’s OK. Offseason is the most hectic season. Obviously, that’s when all the work starts for the future. It’s boring because you can’t drive, but it’s fun in another way. It’s a lot of work and it’s good fun in that way.”

One item Solberg was able to attend to immediately after Rally Chile was the 350-mile Roger Albert Clark Rally. Climbing into his father’s restored Ford Escort RS1800, Solberg charged through Wales, Scotland, the north of England and the Kielder forest before sliding off and getting stuck in the mud on SS29.

“Ah, it was amazing,” sighed Solberg of the RAC rally he is so passionate of. “It has always been a dream of mine to do the rally. It was a proper adventure. Five days of classic rallying with classic and proper rally cars, 10,700rpm and driving half of the rally in the dark. It was amazing. It was really, really, really amazing.

“You know, my grandfather did the rally back in the 1970s. His best finish was exactly 50 years ago. He did the rally in 1973. It’s a cool story. It was exactly 50 years in-between rallies for him. It was hardcore rallying. It was proper old school rally. The car that I competed in was from 1976, so you can imagine that it was proper shifting and no power steering. Yeah, the car was absolutely fantastic to drive.”

Taking a step back and a long look at his 2023 body of work, Solberg finds a lot to take satisfaction in.

“I have to say it has been fantastic, to be honest. I was really, really happy with the year,” said the Swede. “I was the fastest overall this year and I’m still young, so I’m very happy. Obviously, I was leading the world championship early on in the year, but then having some technical issues early in the year was not optimal. That’s just how it is. Otherwise, it has been an absolutely amazing year with a lot of wins and a lot of positives. We traveled the world. It was amazing.

“You know, the dream was to be world champion, but otherwise and on the other side, being the quickest overall at every rally and on every surface this year was definitely all part of the goal,” he reasoned. “Getting back to the top and working on it and getting confidence back was what I wanted and I 100-percent achieved that goal. I have to be very happy.”

While displaying straight-up speed was his primary objective, Solberg also worked on managing the contests he competed in, at times almost slowing down and calming down to go, well, faster.

“Yeah, for sure I learned a lot with that,” said Solberg. “You know, getting older and getting more mature is helpful, and of course you’re learning a lot year by year and race by race. I was pushing when I could push. I was pushing when I knew the speed was good. I could also back off a little bit sometimes. It was definitely a big learning curve in that sense, as well.

“I won two championship races; I won the European race, as well. I also won the Race of Champions with my dad again this year — obviously a fantastic moment. We did that for the second year in a row and that is always special.

Ironically, though, Solberg says one of the highlights of his year was a race he didn’t win. The Swede was handily leading Rally Portugal when he was assessed a penalty for performing a donut for the fans at the Lousada stage superspecial.

“Wins are always excellent and the very highest, but I think the highest and coolest point was probably the Rally of Portugal,” he admitted. “I was in the lead and I did some donuts and I got a penalty. I was almost able to catch back up to the win — I was only one second behind. It was definitely very bittersweet, but still a big highlight. It was great fun and a lot of fans and atmosphere and the buzz around it all was absolutely crazy, so I think that was a cool highlight.”

While the Portuguese result stung a bit, down deep, Solberg was thrilled to stoke out the fans that afternoon.

“Yeah, that’s what I love. I love to share the passion with people and when people have the same passion that I do, it’s fantastic,” he said. “That’s what makes it fun, you know? After Ken Block passed away, I learned a lot by trying to enjoy life while you can. I try and engage with people. I try to reach out to the fans. There are few drivers who do that these days. I really want to connect with the people that make the sport so big. Sharing the passion with the people. I think that’s what makes it the most fun.

“I try to be myself and Ken was really helpful with me when I was young. He was always a big idol to me and he was my first-ever sponsor with DC Shoes when I was a kid. We also did Gymkhana TEN together. He obviously was a big, big inspiration to me, so I just tried to learn from that by doing what you love and doing what you believe. I want to bring the fans into the sport because that is what makes it so good. That’s a lot of inspiration from Ken, obviously.”

All things considered, Solberg has been quite pleased with the Skoda team and its Skoda Fabia RS Rally2.

“Yeah, definitely it has been great with both the car and the team. The car was brand-new for this year and it performed really well so early on at the early rallies,” he noted. “That was definitely a positive. We worked hard over the year trying to develop everything together. There has been a great vibe inside the team trying to have that passion and enjoyment between the people. That is very important and that’s what I’m trying to push inside the team. I want us to have fun together.

Solberg is still ironing out what his 2024 WRC campaign will look like.

“Nothing is done yet for 2024 — it is starting to evolve” Solberg said. “We’re starting to get meetings and contracts and everything going, you know?

That evolution will apparently not include Solberg graduating to the premiere WRC division for 2024, though.

“It will not be WRC,” he said. “I got a few offers, actually, but it appears that I will compete in WRC2 in 2024.”