Petter Solberg is considered amongst the current elite of Rally, but it was not always rainbows and butterflies for the Norwegian champion (and by all means, it still isn’t).
Solberg had to endure harsh obstacles during his career but it is that fighting spirit that sets him apart from the others – we continue with part two of our in-depth look at his competitive years.
In case you missed part one, you can read all about it here
Petter Solberg WRC Career 2006 – 2009
In 2006, Petter Solberg continued his partnership with the Subaru World Rally Team, driving the newest Impreza WRC. Solberg secured a 5 million kroner (€500,000) sponsorship deal from 24SevenOffice, a Norwegian record. His results, though, were inconsistent in comparison to Sébastien Loeb. While he went on to win five rally victories consecutively in a privately run Citroën Xsara WRC, his winning of the title was unhampered even by his broken arm at an advanced stage of the season, Petter Solberg fought back hard but unfortunately he could only muster a handful of runner-up places on rallies all season — in Australia, Mexico and Argentina. Failing to put himself any higher than sixth in his 2006 season’s final points standings – bringing an end to the chain of top three drivers’ championship appearances which the Subaru team had enjoyed since 1994.
Solberg did get his 2007 season off to a more positive start, managing a best finish of 6th place on the Monte Carlo Rally. He was bested by his brother, Henning in the race for the final podium place in Mexico, and surrendered a very plausible 3rd place finish in Sweden after losing substantial amount of time. In Argentina and Sardinia Petter Solberg struggled with his new Impreza — consistent technical problems caused him to retire twice and crash down the leader board in Italy.
Solberg picked up pace in Portugal and took 3rd place on the Acropolis Rally to mark a turnaround in his quality, although even Greek event didn’t go as planned for the young Norwegian as he experienced more technical problems.
Despite Subaru team’s confidence in their car’s stability and performance built up during season break tests, the Impreza S12A failed him miserably again — Petter Solberg had to retire on day 2 in Finland, after catastrophic handling and steering problems which Subaru team’s engineers were unable to cope with. On the next round, Solberg went to Rallye Deutschland, where he finished 6th place, the car by itself was decent throughout the race, but Solberg hit a protruding rock on SS5 crippling the steering, which had cost the Norwegian a significant amount of lost time because his technical team was unable to fully fix it. The New Zealand event was yet another trouble-ridden exit for Solberg — he described having similar handling difficulties to those he had experienced in Finland earlier in the season.
Rally Catalunya was a difficult rally for Petter Solberg. The Norwegian struggled to maintain consistent pace and in the end he placed 6th and almost 3 minutes adrift from the winner, Sébastien Loeb. Solberg was however pleased with changes made in the car setup for day 3, which seemed promising for the following round in Tour de Corse. Unfortunately for Petter, the setup wasn’t as good as he had hoped for and once again had issues with handling which, along with an engine stall on the start of SS5, resulted in a dissatisfying 5th place, finishing behind Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala. In Japan, his Subaru team’s home event, Solberg clocked multiple top-ten times in the early stages, but as his bad luck would have it, he crashed on SS5 then, probably due to damage incurred during the accident, his gearbox locked firm in sixth gear, forcing the frustrated driver to retire for the day. He later rejoined the competition and finished sixteenth, managing to score two points for his team.
On his 33rd birthday, Petter Solberg finished 5th on Rally Ireland, dubbing it “the most difficult rally he has ever done”.
On the last day of the 2007 season, Wales Rally GB, Petter Solberg put together a consistent performance and won the struggle for fourth against Spaniard Dani Sordo even though he had hit a rock that very morning and had minor handling issues. This result allowed his Subaru team to retain their 3rd place in the Manufacturers’ Championship, and Petter ended the 07’ season in 5th place overall.
He also participated in the 07’ Race of Champions, representing his homeland, Norway, along with his brother, Henning. He was unable to win the first race with David Coulthard, but bounced back in the Nation’s Cup and the Norwegian brothers managed to make their way to the semis.
Solberg and Atkinson were retained by Subaru for the 2008 season. Petter started his season with a 5th place finish in Monte Carlo and 4th place finish in Sweden, but went on to retire outside point-scoring positions in the next 4 events. The newly introduced hatchback homologation of the Subaru Impreza, the WRC2008, catapulted the Norwegian to runner-up spot behind Sébastien Loeb in the Acropolis Rally.
Acropolis remained his only podium of the season but Solberg went on to break his personal best record in consecutive point-scoring finishes, He finished in 6th place overall in the drivers’ championship, 4 points short of teammate Chris Atkinson.
Following Suzuki’s announcement of their WRC participation withdrawal on 15 December 2008, the Subaru team announced that they will not be participating in the World Rally Championship any longer. Solberg was left without a ride and was forced to sit out the 2009 season opening Rally Ireland. After thorough evaluation of various private funding options including Citroën and Ford cars, Petter Solberg confirmed his acquirement of a Citroën Xsara WRC.
On the 1st of February 2009, Solberg revealed that 5 sponsors were in place for the 09’ season. The sponsors announced were Pareto, Microsoft, Hurtigruta Carglass and two undisclosed sponsors.
On the 6th of February 2009, Petter Solberg officially announced the Petter Solberg World Rally Team, with co-driver Phil Mills. A 13-member team served Solberg and his 06-spec. Citroën Xsara WRC. His team employed ex-Subaru WRC members François-Xavier “FX” Demaison as chief engineer and Ken Rees as team manager. PSWRT also employed Solberg’s ex-SWRT member and personal friend. Tore Dahl, as a mechanic. PSWRT also brought in, 40 year experienced and close family friend. Sven-Inge Neby.
It took a while for Solberg to adapt to his new car during their first round, but eventually Petter Solberg and Phil Mills managed to secure a sixth place finish and 3 points in the drivers’ championship. PSWRT installed a new engine in the Citroën, which improved Solberg’s performance to finish third in the Cyprus Rally, being the first true privately funded team to be in the podium since Malcolm Wilson’s team back in 93’. Petter Solberg managed to maintain his performance and repeat his feel in Sardinia Rally.
Solberg retained his consistent fight for third and fourth place finishes throughout the next three rallies; in Portugal, in Argentina although he forced to retire from third position due to loss of fuel pressure on the final lap and Italy. PSWRT were forced to “threaten” to swap to a Peugeot 307 WRC, unless they received the necessary 2006 spec upgrades for the Citroën Xsara. The team promptly received the upgrades (mainly improved mechanical differentials and intercooler) for Sardinia, which gave Solberg the fighting chance he needed to defend his 3rd place, in very hot conditions. Petter Solberg expressed that the driving team was unable to push harder in smouldering temperatures, and his team remained open to analyse what to do for the next competitive events.
PSWRT were believed to be contemplating an upgrade to a Peugeot 307 CC but finally decided to stick with the Citroën Xsara. Solberg decided to miss the Australia event to concentrate on finding a better performing, competitive car. Solberg tested a Ford Focus RS in Britain and a WRC Citroën C4 WRC in France. PSWRT later confirmed that Solberg would drive a C4 at the Rally Catalunya and Wales Rally GB for the final two rounds of the season. His car was to be an 08’-spec C4, but would include upgrades to bring it as close as possible to the factory cars of Dani Sordo and Sébastien Loeb. Petter Solberg continued to pilot for his own Petter Solberg World Rally Team, but was a nominated points scorer for the CJT (Citroen Junior Team) at the Wales Rally GB. He finished in fourth position, and ended up fifth in the overall 09’ Drivers’ Championship standings.