As this weekend’s round eight of the FIA World Rallycross Championship (5-6 August in Trois-Rivières, Canada) comes closer and closer, double World Rallycross Champion as well as 2003 World Rally Champion, Norwegian Petter Solberg, takes some time to look back at the considerable success his newly-rebranded PSRX Volkswagen Sweden team has achieved throughout the first half of the season.
The team was formed at the beginning of the year, when Solberg joined forces with World RX rival Johan Kristoffersson, whose links with the Volkswagen group date back a couple of decades (his father, Tommy Kristoffersson, has also competed in European Rallycross and Touring Cars with both Audi and VW-branded cars).
PSRX has then acquired two VW Polo Supercars directly from Volkswagen Motorsport, after their shock retirement from the WRC which they dominated for four years in a row with French driver Sébastien Ogier: Solberg’s and Kristoffersson’s WRX contenders are, in fact, World Rally Car chassis that underwent some strengthening before being fitted with 2.0-litre, 600bhp rallycross engines in place of the 1.6-litre, 300bhp units used in rallying.
As they entered the season opener in Barcelona last April, both Polos reached the final, with Solberg finishing fourth and Kristoffersson sixth. From the following race onwards (in Montalegre, Portugal), the 28-year-old Swede has consistently appeared on the podium, scoring his first win of the season in Mettet, Belgium.
On the following race at Lydden Hill in England, it was Solberg’s turn to claim the top step of the podium, whereas in the next two Scandinavian appointments of Hell and Höljes the Norwegian was forced to miss out on the finals due to a variety of reasons, while the Swede clocked up two more emotional victories both in Norway and at home in Sweden, and leads the Championship with 181 points, 31 more than current runner-up Solberg.
“How could we ever expect this?, Solberg wonders. “We would have been crazy and complacent if we’d expected to achieve what we have done.
“We hoped like hell that we would be successful and maybe win some races this year, but everything, hey, I tell you, everything was new for this year.
“We kept our team, but we now had to work closely with Volkswagen Motorsport; how was that going to be? Pernilla [Petter’s wife] and me, we had done all of the management and everything on our own, but now we had to talk to other people about decisions; how was that going to be? And finally, we had a car built in almost no time for a really specialist sport like rallycross; how was that going to be?”
So, how was it?
“It was fantastic,” Solberg says. “But it wasn’t fantastic by accident. It was fantastic because people didn’t go to their beds for so many nights, instead they worked like mad and they made this happen. We didn’t leave anything to luck. We worked. For myself, I said this is my life, you know that, but my team all made it their lives as well.
“In eight months, we have achieved a dream. But now we have to make sure we wake up with a smile on our face at the end of the season and that smile is victory in the teams’ and the drivers’ championship.”
And key to that dream will be this weekend’s race in Canada.
“I’m so excited about Canada,” said Kristoffersson.
“Such a long break away from driving the Polo GTI Supercar in competition is tough – I’d be in the car every day if I could. But the break has actually been quite nice as well… the schedule was pretty intense on the run into Sweden and the celebrations were pretty full-on after I won at home!
“Canada’s a great track and the atmosphere there is just amazing. It’s different, not quite so raw as places like Sweden or Norway, but the people there are so nice and so interested in what we’re doing. There’s also some really interesting support races to watch, including the team’s youngest member: Petter and Pernilla’s son Oliver.
“Nic Hamilton [brother of F1 driver Lewis Hamilton] will also make his RX debut. It’s always nice to catch some action from a different series.”
Solberg won the Canadian event on its very first edition back in 2014; the following year, heavy contact with Peugeot rival Timmy Hansen in their semi-final badly hurt the Norwegian’s hopes, who finished only fourth. Last year, he finished fifth overall, and just past the finish line, Kristoffersson’s then-team-mate Anton Marklund crashed into the back of Petter’s DS3, almost ending the Norwegian’s season. The driver escaped unhurt, but it took a miracle for the team to get the car ready for the following round in Lohéac, France.
While racing action in Canada is set to start on Saturday morning, 5 August, the true event opener will be the drivers parade in downtown Trois-Rivières on Friday evening, 4 August.