Full speed ahead

Norwegian teens leaving tread marks on motorsport racing

Dennis Hauger

Photo: Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool
Norwegian 16-year-old Dennis Hauger (#62) of Van Amersfoort Racing, performs during round seven of the Italian F4 Championship at Monza, Italy, on Oct. 20, 2019. Hauger won the Italian Championship with a record 12 victories. The previous mark was nine.

Michael Kleiner
The Norwegian American

One of them is not yet old enough to vote, drink alcohol, or drive in Norway. The other just became eligible. Yet, 18-year-old Oliver Solberg and 16-year-old Dennis Hauger are already making their mark in motorsport. Solberg, who turned 18 on Sept. 23, had a movie made about him when he was 17.

Both compete in rally and rallycross events. According to the website of driving school Dirtfish, “Rally is one car at a time on a public road closed for racing against the clock, and rallycross is multiple cars running together on a closed course specifically designed for racing. The cars are similar, but in rallycross there are fewer engine restrictions, and the cars do not have to be street legal” (www.dirtfish.com/our-school/rally-101).

Hauger competes in Formula 4 (F4), the lowest tier of formulae, with each tier more powerful and faster, up to F1. According to Peter Clifford, media relations representative for the Red Bull Junior Team, there are standard regulations for chassis and engine power at F1, F2, and F3, so driver ability is emphasized. Each track may be a different distance, but the race times are usually 30 minutes or 30 minutes plus a lap. There is a minimum age limit of 15, but not a maximum. F1 does not have car restrictions. Cars are one-seaters.

Photo: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool
Eighteen-year old Oliver Solberg of Norway is seen on day 4 during the World Rally Championship Great Britain in Llandundo, Great Britain, on Oct. 6.

Solberg has a pedigree. He is the son of Norwegian legend Petter Solberg, 44, who is the only person to win both the world rallying (2003) and rallycross (2014, 2015) championships, and Pernilla Walfridsson-Solberg, a Swede, who was one of the world’s best female rally drivers, and whose father, Per-Inge Walfridsson, was a successful rally racer. The young Solberg is also a nephew of Henning Solberg, a five-time Norwegian rally champion, who participated in 128 World Rallycross races. Petter and Henning’s parents, Terje and Tove, were also involved in autocross. In 2018, Petter Solberg came out of retirement to race again but has now put the keys away for good. Walfridsson-Solberg retired in 2001 at age 27, because she was pregnant with the future race-car driver. 

Photo: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool
Legend of the present and future Oliver Solberg, 18 (left), with his father, Norwegian legendary world rally and rallycross champion Petter Solberg during the World Rally Championship Great Britain in Llandundo, Great Britain, on Oct. 6. Oliver and co-driver Aaron Johnston won three of the six events of the American Rally Championships and finished third overall. Petter came out of retirement in 2018 and retired again after the World Cup in Wales in October.

Entering the 2019 season, Oliver Solberg switched from Peugeot 208 R2 to Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 for rally events in Latvia—his father’s preferred car—and announced he would race with the Subaru Motorsports USA team in a Subaru WRX STI in the six events of the American Rally Championships, and Aaron Johnston, 22, would be his co-driver. In October, they won three of the six and finished third overall in the American Rally Championships. Each event at a different venue had several stages. On Sept. 8, father beat son in Poland.

Young Solberg turned 18 right before the World Cup in Wales in early October and had to take a test to qualify. There was controversy over which country he represented. Because Latvia had allowed him to race since he was 15, he had driven with a Latvian flag. More recently, having turned 18, his car had a Swedish flag because his mother is Swedish and they live on a farm in Mitandersfor, Sweden. In the World Cup paperwork, he was listed as Norwegian until right before the start of the World Cup. 

Mechanical problems after 4.7 km ruined his first day, and with a time penalty, he could not make up the difference. The World Cup was also his father’s last race, who passed his son and his disabled car along the way.

After trying soccer, hockey, tennis, and karting, young Solberg switched gears. Since he was 2, he had been going to WRC races with his parents, and was driving before he was 6. He started with crosskarts, which are fast, light buggies racing in proximity on tracks. His first win was at 8 years old, and his first Norwegian championship came in 2012. He then bumped up a level and won Norwegian championships from 2014 to 2016.

“It was Grandpa Per-Inge who got me interested in motorsport,” Solberg said to VG. “Admittedly, I got to try out go-karting when we were living in Monaco, along with Michael Schumacher’s son, but I thought it was pretty boring. But Grandpa took me on a crosskart ride when I was 8, and since then it has only snowballed.”

At 15, he wanted to switch to rallying and there were special age dispensations to allow Solberg to race in Latvia, Estonia, and the Nordic Rallycross. Racing in a Peugeot 208 R2, he had two wins and impressive results in other races. He also tried rallycross, driving Petter’s old 600bhp DS3 Supercar in the RallyXNordic. In addition to a podium finish there, he picked up two wins during the season and finished second in the championship. 

On Oct. 7, 2018, at 17 years and 14 days old, he became the youngest to win the RallyXNordic series, driving a Circle-K-supported DS3. The victory also marked 38 years since his grandfather won the European Rallycross Championship. In 2018, he won three events. He finished second in LRC3 and U28 categories in Latvia. The father noted that his son was racing faster than he was at the same age. 

“It is not about money, but about support from mother and father,” Oliver said to VG. “We are equally interested in all of this. We do what we love. We do it with heart. Of course, we have the opportunities that money provides, but we do it because we love it. We share the same passion.” 

“I’m clearly proud,” said the elder Solberg to VG. “Yes, he has big shoes to fill. That’s just how it is. It applies regardless of sport. Maybe it would have been easier if he had been engaged in a different sport than me. But Oliver copes with this very well. He has good goals. He is very enthusiastic about what he does, and he wants to do it really well.”

“I have my dreams. I want to be a world champion, but that’s in the future,” said Solberg the younger. 

Dennis Hauger

The other teen racing sensation stepped out of karts into F4 in 2018 in Great Britain. He competes with the Dutch team, Van Amersfoort Racing and is a member of the prestigious Red Bull Junior training program. “Red Bull Junior Team signs drivers and/or racing teams, like Van Amersfoort, so that drivers race in agreed series,” explained Clifford. According to the website, “they receive professional and continuous training in all relevant areas of motorsport…with the goal to reach F1.”

Hauger capped 2019 by setting a season record in the Italian F4 Championships with 12 victories. The previous record was nine. He had clinched the title before the final race at Mugello on Oct. 6 and the final competition in Monza, Oct. 18-20, which was conducted in heavy rain. He still swept all three races at Monza. 

At Mugello, Hauger had the pole position to start the third race and never yielded the lead, winning by 10 seconds. There were 21 races in the Italian championships. 

Dennis Hauger

Photo: Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool
Dennis Hauger raises his arms in triumph, trophy in hand, at Monza, Italy, on Oct. 20, 2019, after winning the Italian F4 championships.

“It feels pretty special to finish the season like that and take the record for the number of wins in the season,” said Hauger on the Junior Team Red Bull website. “One of the main things coming to Monza was to take the team championship, and we did that, a big thanks to the Van Amersfoort guys who have been fantastic all year…. We knew that I was quickest everywhere except the straights. So, I was confident going into the races. The races were all wet, but I had a good setup and rhythm going. There were a few safety cars and restarts, but they went OK. It took a while to get into the lead in Race 3, but I managed to get past Jonny (Edgar) going into the Parabolica, and then got away to make it three wins.”

He was the first ever to sweep three races in one weekend at the ADAC German Formula 4 Championships in Hockenheim, Sept. 13-15. In the third race, he was the eighth starter.

After the German hat trick, which brought him within one point of overall leader Théo Pourchaire of France, Hauger told VG, “It’s a cool feeling. I have been told no driver has ever won all the races on a race weekend. It’s good to take with you.”

The Aurskog native had some bad luck in subsequent races and finished second, seven points behind Pourchaire in the German standings. It was an exciting final weekend at Sachsenring, Sept. 27-29. Pourchaire was second in the first race, beat Hauger in the second, and finished second behind Hauger in the third. Though Hauger had the fastest lap time in the first race, he didn’t finish in the top three.

In 2018, Hauger had four victories and barely missed out being the top rookie to 15-year-old Jack Doohan of Australia.

This article originally appeared in the November 15, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner, business and sports editor, has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of NorCham Philadelphia. Visit Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.