Date of Birth:18 Nov 74
FIA Championship Titles:2003
WRC Rally Starts:178
WRC Rally Wins:13
With a career total of 149 WRC starts at the beginning of the 2010 season, Petter Solberg is easily the most experienced top level driver in the modern day WRC. And of the current crop of drivers his tally of 13 victories at WRC level is second only to Loeb’s total. But after four years without a win, and the shock exit in last 2008 of the Subaru team he was so closely associated with, Petter was forced to take matters into his own hands in 2009 - and he's doing the same again this year.
Solberg's nickname is 'Hollywood', and it's a perfect moniker for the dramatic, extravagant, and amiable Norwegian. The 2003 world champion is as far from the stereotypical, quiet Scandinavian as you could imagine, and really wears his heart on his sleeve.
Solberg's disco-dancing background hints at how he drives his cars - on the edge, with vigour, passion and sideways panache. He started competing in rallycross and hillclimbing, before turning to rallying. In 1998, he won the Norwegian national title, but more importantly badgered Ford boss Malcolm Wilson into giving him a test. Wilson was impressed enough to give Solberg a drive for 1999. Midway through 2000, though, Solberg controversially jumped ship to Subaru, where he remained for eight years.
It was a difficult start, as much of Solberg's enthusiasm to impress resulted in hefty accidents, but as 2001 evolved into 2002, so Solberg matured and, in the season-ending Rally GB, he took his first victory. He had emerged as a title contender and a star of the future and, in 2003, the drivers' title was his after a fine display of raw speed, grit under duress and commitment. Runner up to Loeb in 2004 and 2005, Solberg was still very much a force to be reckoned with. But from then on, while Petter’s hunger for success was still there, the results began to tail off.
Since his last victory, on the 12th round of the 2005 season, Solberg has remained largely in the WRC doldrums. The combination of some terrible luck on the stages, and his obvious dislike of Subaru’s later evolutions of the WRC Impreza, led to him becoming an increasingly frustrated mid-field competitor.
Left high and dry after Subaru’s withdrawal at the end of 2008, Petter faced an uncertain future, but with characteristic determination he decided to create his own team, from scratch. Time constraints meant he missed the opening round of the 2009 series, but for Norway he was back with his own rally team, an ageing Citroen Xsara WRC, and the appropriate team motto ‘Never Give Up’. He opened his season with an emotional stage win in front of his home crowd, and went on to take a podium on the next event in Cyprus.
He made the podium again in Italy, but by then it was clear that all the enthusiasm in the world wasn't going to make up for the inadequacies of the Xsara. He didn't bother going to Australia, reasoning that if he wanted to win rallies he needed a better car. And in Spain he got it - when he was invited to drive a 2008-model C4 WRC for the Citroen Junior Team. He took four stage wins there, and ended the season ranked fifth in the drivers' championship. Equalling his best result since 2005 - and with two rallies missed.
In 2010, Petter is back as a privateer entry again, but this time he's got a 2009-spec Citroen C4 WRC from the very first round. This could be his best chance of title glory for five years.