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Solberg: M-Sport Rally1 WRC deal still an option for 2023

Oliver Solberg says an M-Sport Rally1 drive is still an option for 2023, but has confirmed preparations for a Rally2 programme are in full swing as a back up plan.

Oliver Solberg, Hyundai World Rally Team

Solberg has found himself without a drive for 2023 after Hyundai elected to drop the 21-year-old from its factory Rally1 operation at the end off the year, citing a wish to field a more experienced driver line up.

The South Korean marque has since announced that Craig Breen will fill the position after the Irishman left a two-year deal with M-Sport a year early.

As previously revealed, Solberg opened talks with M-Sport regarding a 2023 Rally1 drive in October shortly after Hyundai’s decision.

These talks have continued, and while discussions have slowed, Solberg is refusing to rule out the possibility of moving to the Ford squad next year.

The son of 2003 world rally champion Petter Solberg, confirmed that long-time sponsor Monster Energy is involved in the talks.

Solberg recently visited the energy drinks firm’s headquarters in the US last month, sparking wild speculation on social media of a new team, backed by the organisation, featuring Solberg and Ott Tanak, following the latter's departure from Hyundai. Tanak is however a prime target for M-Sport to lead its operation next year.

While Rally1 discussions are ongoing, Solberg has been busily preparing for a full season in Rally2 machinery to ensure he will be competing in some form next year regardless.

“It is going slow,” Solberg told Autosport about his Rally1 hopes for next year. “M-Sport looks like an option, it is still quite open but it is difficult to say at the moment.

“The progress is slow so right now we are working on different plans in an R5 car, either doing it privately with the [Volkswagen] Polo or with a team in a different car, so we will see.”

Oliver Solberg, Elliott Edmondson, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Oliver Solberg, Elliott Edmondson, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Asked about the rumours of a link up with Tanak, he replied: “We have been working on that maybe not together with Ott, but we have been working on doing something with M-Sport and Monster together.

“We will see. It looks a bit difficult, but everything is still open.”

It is understood that any deal with M-Sport will be subject to a potential sponsorship clash. The Ford squad this year received backing from rival energy drinks company Red Bull on its cars driven by Sebastien Loeb, Breen and Adrien Fourmaux.

The team is thought to be talking to Red Bull athlete and nine-time world champion Loeb regarding a return to the team next year for selected rallies.

Speaking about the discussions with Solberg prior to last month’s Rally Japan, M-Sport team principal Richard Millener told Autosport/Motorsport.com, “There was some initial discussions, I think it is a difficult one because there is obviously some sponsor conflicts to be aware of.

“We have a strong relationship with Red Bull and I think it would be wrong of us to do anything along those lines at this moment in time. It is a difficult situation for Oliver as there are only certain number of seats available.”

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However, should Solberg’s wishes of returning to Rally1 machinery next year fade, the Swede is confident and looking forward to a full season in Rally2.

“I don’t have any panic to go back a step,” Solberg added. “I’m still so young so it doesn’t really matter. I would rather do something properly than do something halfway, and if that means going back to R5 and doing that properly I’d rather do that.”

Meanwhile, Solberg has been nominated for an FIA Action of the Year award for his stunning save during Rally Estonia at this month’s FIA Prize Giving ceremony in Italy.

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