Features

Snow rally success for Johnston and Solberg

The Solberg name goes hand-in-hand with world rallying. 16 years have passed since Petter Solberg won the World Rally Championship in his Subaru Impreza WRC. Now, his son Oliver is beginning to make strides in his own rallying career.

Guiding him through the twists and turns in 2019 will be Northern Irish co-driver, Aaron Johnston. The young pairing are competing in the Baltic States this year in a Volkswagen Polo R5.

They’ve wasted no time in bagging a win, taking the honours on their debut rally together on last weekend’s Rally Aluksne. The snow stages of Rally Aluksne proved no problem for 17-year-old Solberg and co-driver, Johnston. They took the lead of the rally on the sixth stage from Mini WRC driver, Valeriy Gorban, which they comfortably held for the remaining four stages.

“We did not set any targets for the first event,” explains Johnston. “Except a finish to gain experience and mileage in the new car.

“So to be fighting for the win was quite unexpected as we were driving at 95% and taking no risks.

“This was only my second ever snow rally, but it is a surface I absolutely love.

“There is just something very exhilarating about driving flat out on a surface you can barely stand up on.

“Oliver is a natural talent, he is only 17 so he has a very bright future ahead of him.

“He is definitely one to watch, I have no doubt he has the skill to emulate his father in becoming a World Rally champion.”

With over 150 rallies under his belt, you’d be forgiven for thinking Johnston is a seasoned veteran. But at 23 years of age, the Fintona native has a career that is very much still ahead of him.

A partnership with Abu Dhabi Racing allowed Johnston to spend some time with experienced co-driver Chris Patterson in 2018. A link that would bring him into the Solberg team.

“Around a month before Rally Spain last year, Petter Solberg was in need of a co-driver for his pre-event test in the Volkswagen Polo R5.

“He phoned Chris to see if he knew anyone available to co-drive for him on the test.

“Chris recommended myself, and I spent three full days with Petter in the Polo in early October.

“Petter was impressed with me and then set up a test with Oliver, who was also very happy.

“I have built a relationship with all of the Solberg family now over the last six months and they are a lovely bunch of people.

“They all have been very welcoming and kind to me, I am really excited for the year ahead in working with the whole family and the wider team.”

Johnston will continue his season with Solberg early next month on another snow rally in Latvia, Rally Sarma. Their main goal in 2019 is to learn the Polo R5 around the Balkan region but Johnston has admitted there may be a few extra exciting plans to be revealed in due course.

Either way this is a young pairing you’d be wise to keep an eye on. Hopefully we can add another Irishman to the already illustrious list of Irish co-drivers.

Adam Hall

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