Just as he did on the snow-covered Rally Sweden earlier this year, privateer Pirelli driver Henning Solberg broke Volkswagen’s domination of the stage times on Wales Rally GB, going fastest of all on the Chirk Castle stage.
The 41-year-old Solberg was a late entry, using M-Sport’s re-prepared test car but not having the chance to test the car or the tyres before the rally. Despite this handicap, and an extremely limited budget, he was able to top the time sheets and seemed set for a points finish for the fifth time this year – before a mechanical problem on the final day stopped him in his tracks. As a committed enthusiast as well as a professional competitor, rather than return to the service park after his retirement, Solberg headed out into the forests to watch the rest of the rally that his brother Petter has won four times.
Solberg, along with the rest of the Pirelli runners, used the reinforced K8 and K4 tyres, with a tread pattern that is renowned for its abilities to evacuate the mud, gravel and loose stones that are a regular feature of Wales Rally GB.
“The tyres were really, really good,” said Solberg. “I’ve never driven on them before and the only test I had was the shakedown, but still I felt a lot of confidence from the beginning and I was able to push. Once again, on Pirelli, I set a fastest stage time in world rallying. In the conditions that I manage to do these rallies it shouldn’t really be possible at all, but we still manage to do it. I’ve always had a very good feeling with Pirelli and this feeling is still the same now.”
Solberg was not the only Pirelli privateer to be in contention with the factory teams. Czech driver Martin Prokop also kept up his 100% points scoring record with Pirelli, while fighting with some of the factory cars. “There was almost too much grip!” said Prokop on the opening day, before finishing ninth overall in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
In WRC2, Lorenzo Bertelli – who led the championship for much of the year – also showed frontrunning pace, eventually finishing second in the class on the rally, to underline a consistently impressive season. Bernardo Sousa also showed plenty of pace on the Italian tyres in Wales before being forced into retirement.
Pirelli’s senior tyre engineer Matteo Braga said: “It’s always a pleasure to watch Henning drive, for his speed, commitment and passion. Once more, he has highlighted the quality of our products by becoming the only genuine privateer to have set a fastest stage time on the rally, under challenging circumstances. Our aim this year was firmly to cater for our priavte customers, and we have succeeded in our goal of providing them with a competitive product to take on established rivals. This can be seen from the very strong performance from Martin Prokop as well, not to mention Lorenzo Bertelli – with whom we led the WRC2 championship for the majority of the year. So this has certainly been a very successful comeback for us so far.”