The 2003 World Rally Champion, Petter Solberg, was known for his sparkling personality as much as his driving ability: earning him the nickname ‘Hollywood’. He became the first driver to win FIA world championships in two different motorsport disciplines when he won the World Rallycross title in 2014, successfully retaining his crown the following season.
Solberg first started out competing with radio-controlled cars before racing in ‘bilcross’: a low-cost form of rallycross in Norway. He went on to become Norwegian champion in rallycross and hillclimbing, before turning to rallying in 1995 and winning the national title.
He was soon signed up by Ford rally boss Malcolm Wilson, a man with an eye for talent. Solberg’s big opportunity came when he was called to replace Thomas Radstrom at the 1999 Safari Rally, who had broken his leg. Accompanied by veteran navigator Fred Gallagher, Solberg finished fifth overall. ‘Hollywood’ had arrived.
Petter had a five-year deal with Ford but grew frustrated with his third driver role, so in the middle of 2000 he found a way out to join rival team Subaru.
The 2001 season, when Solberg’s Subaru team-mate Richard Burns won the championship, featured a second place in Greece but also a few too many accidents. Solberg scored his first victory on Rally GB at the end of 2002; one year later he and co-driver Phil Mills finally won the World Rally Championship.
Petter challenged for the championship again in 2004, winning the first-ever Rally Japan to the delight of Subaru and its fans. But he couldn’t do much about the inexorable rise of Sebastien Loeb, who went on to win an incredible nine titles in a row. The wins dried up for him yet Solberg remained loyal to the Pirelli-equipped Subaru team until the Japanese company quit the WRC at the end of 2008.
Petter then set up his own team, driving privately-run Citroens and finishing third in the championship in 2010. Yet he wasn’t quite done as a factory driver.
In 2012 he made a return to Ford for his final full season of rallying. For his next challenge afterwards, Solberg switched his attention back to rallycross and became the discipline’s first ever world champion in 2014, successfully defending his title the following season.
A subsequent relationship with Volkswagen in rallycross presented the chance for a WRC comeback in 2018, when Solberg gave the new Polo R5 its debut in Spain. A year later, he drove a similar car on Rally GB for his official farewell – and bowed out with victory in the WRC2 class with Pirelli.
That event was extra-special for Solberg. Not only was it his very last WRC event, but it was also the very first WRC rally for his son Oliver: a shining star of the sport today.