For Petter Solberg, 2013 marked a return to his motorsport roots.
After fourteen years competing in the FIA World Rally Championship, the Norwegian superstar headed back to the discipline in which he learnt his trade in the early 1990’s, rallycross.
The 1995 Norwegian Rallycross champion returned to the sport in the new-look FIA European Rallycross Championship, his team running their own Citroen DS3 Supercar.
Despite building the car in just six weeks in the lead up to the season opener at Lydden Hill back in April, Solberg was straight on the pace, showcasing the spectacular showman style that’s earned him the ‘Hollywood’ moniker throughout his career.
A power-steering failure would rob him of a spot in the final that weekend, and that would be the start of a campaign plagued by mechanical issues, punctures and contact – the lowpoint seeing a suspension failure take a seemingly nailed-on victory from his grasps just a lap from the end in Finland.
While he didn’t take an event win over the course of the season, Solberg proved himself to be one of the fastest drivers on the grid with numerous heat and semi-final wins, as well as a new lap record at the Montalegre circuit in Portugal.
Despite the struggles, the 2003 FIA World Rally Champion told The Checkered Flag that considering the last-minute nature of the preparations, he was happy with how the season went.
“It all happened very quickly, we built a car in six weeks, and it wasn’t a good plan to do it in that short time,” he said. “That meant it was more of a development year for us, learning the sport and developing the car, which by the end of the year was fantastic.”
To say rallycross has been enjoying a resurgence of late would be an understatement.
The European Championship reached new heights last season, success that convinced the FIA to create the FIA World Rallycross Championship for the upcoming campaign.
Solberg feels that under the guidance of IMG Motorsports, the World Championship will flourish and take the sport to heights it’s never reached before.
“The sport is going to be big,” he enthused. “IMG have taken control of it, they have been successful with other things they have done, and they are pushing the sport forwards. To get live TV, like we have been dreaming of in rallying for many years, is great, and to be an official world championship is a big thing.
“From what they have told me, they want rallycross to become the next biggest motorsport after Formula One. It’s a big goal, but let’s hope it does. I think it’s going to grow very fast from here.”
For the upcoming season, Solberg’s PS-RX outfit will be running a second DS3 for compatriot Alexander Hvaal, who impressed the team during a test in mid-October. It capped off a superb end to 2013 for the 21 year old, who tasted victory in the final two European RX events.
It’s the first time in his career that Solberg has taken a driver directly under his wings, and the thirteen-time WRC rally winner is looking forward to seeing how it goes.
“He was very fast on the test and it’s a perfect situation for the team. Normally young guys coming in are very cocky, they think they knows what’s best themselves, but he’s got his feet on the floor,” Solberg enthused.
“I know, having worked with the likes of Colin [McRae] and Tommi [Makkinen], that you can learn a lot from experienced drivers, learning the small details to get the package to win over a whole year. I think we’ll have a good plan together for the season, he’s very talented, and it’ll be interesting to see how he does.”
With a season of developing the DS3 behind them, and a new team-mate on board to drive them forwards, Solberg, who turns 40 this year, is heading into 2014 with big goals for the PS-RX squad.
As well as targeting the team’s title alongside Hvaal, Solberg has aspirations to add to his 2003 WRC title and become a world champion in two different disciplines.
“The world championships are the goal for the team this season,” he concluded. “We have worked very hard since the season finished, with testing, to get everything prepared as best as possible. We’re focusing on getting all the details right, and if we do, we can win. My life is all about reaching new goals and new heights, and doing things that not many people have done.”
The inaugural FIA World Rallycross Championship will begin in Portugal on May 3/4, before making its sole UK visit at Lydden Hill in Kent on May 24/25. Trips to ten other countries follow, with the season finishing in Argentina in late November.