Belfast Telegraph

Aaron lands dream role with rising rally star Solberg

 

Dream team: Tyrone’s Aaron Johnston and teenager star Oliver Solberg are set for their debut on snowy Rally Aluksne in Latvia
Dream team: Tyrone’s Aaron Johnston and teenager star Oliver Solberg are set for their debut on snowy Rally Aluksne in Latvia

By Sammy Hamill

He's the 17-year-old son of a rally legend, a former World champion, and Oliver Solberg has ambitions to emulate his father.

And when he makes his full debut in Latvia this weekend he will have an Ulster co-driver, Aaron Johnston, alongside him in his R5 Volkswagen Polo.

It is a dream role for the 23-year-old from Fintona, the chance to be in at the beginning of a career which is expected to see Oliver rise through the ranks to World Championship level.

Too young to drive legally in his native Norway, Solberg has already been competing as a junior in Latvia and Estonia for two years with marked success in a little R2 Peugeot.

Nw takes a big step forward with an R5 Polo, a car his father tested in Spain last year.

Alongside the ex-champion during the test was Aaron Johnston, who had come highly recommended by fellow Ulsterman and one of Petter's former co-drivers, Chris Patterson.

Indeed, Patterson, with more than 20 years experience at World Championship level, has become something of a mentor for Johnston who, despite still being in his early 20s, has already clocked up huge rally mileage in Ireland, the UK, Europe and even America.

Most recently he has been partnering Mohamed Al Mutawaa in the French Peugeot Cup series, a Middle East connection which Patterson helped to forge via his Abu Dhabi Citroën connections as co-driver to Khalid Al Qassimi.

But then came the call inviting him to team up with teenager Solberg, who until now has been partnered by fellow Norwegian Veronica Engan.

"I felt like I wanted to try something new, and Aaron was my first choice," explained Oliver.

"We've had a couple of tests already and the feeling is good, we get on really well, and with recommendations from Chris Patterson and my father I'm confident we'll work well together.

"Plus with my pacenote system being in English it has a lot of potential there too.

"Now we're looking forward to getting out on our first stages together!"

Aaron, who grew up in a rally-loving family in Tyrone, started reading the maps for his father on night navigation events when he was only 15 and then rapidly climbed the ladder, achieving podium finishes in the Irish Tarmac and Irish Forestry Championships, as well as gaining international experience.

But for Aaron, joining the Solberg team is the most exciting opportunity so far.

"I'm thrilled to join Oliver and the team.

"It's clear he's a great talent and for him to choose me for this role is an honour.

"Plus we already get on well personally which is crucial to the partnership.

"With a new team inside the car, and a new car too, this could be seen as a learning year for us. But the tests have gone really well and it would be great to show our full potential and fight near the front at the end of the year."

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