Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Motorsport prime

Discover premium content
Subscribe

Edition

Global Global
Special feature

Inside the mind of the WRC’s “Hollywood” showman

Few drivers wore their hearts on their sleeves and entertained like Petter Solberg. Just over two decades on from winning the 2003 World Rally Championship, the Norwegian remains a force in the rallying scene. But what is it like to be Petter Solberg - the showman - and the hidden challenges he’s overcome?

Petter Solberm VW Polo GTI R2

Petter Solberm VW Polo GTI R2

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Simply known as "Mr Hollywood" during his World Rally Championship pomp, Petter Solberg has always been a showman powered by an abundance of energy and a drive to achieve - whatever the challenge. These attributes, in addition to his skill behind the wheel, combined to help the Norwegian win the ultimate prize in rallying, the WRC title, in 2003 and secure back-to-back world rallycross titles run by his own team in 2014-2015.

But there have been hidden challenges too for the driver whose swashbuckling exploits driving a factory Subaru Impreza culminated in beating Sebastien Loeb to that famous breakthrough world title alongside Phil Mills in Wales more than two decades ago.

Few drivers have lit up the WRC scene in the way Solberg did. He always kept up his heart-on-sleeve approach that earned himlegions of fans throughout a WRC career that took off when he secured his first works contract with M-Sport Ford in 1999. They followed and - as a social media presence equivalent to, if not larger than the current WRC stars attests - continue to follow today a life described by his peers as "full action all of the time".

"I have fun every day and try to enjoy every day," explains Solberg during a candid interview about his career on the latest episode of Autosport's Gravel Notes Podcast. "I have seen over the years that having a character is not always positive sometimes.

"For myself, and when you have your own team, it is positive. But from other points of view, people can be intimidated. But you are the person you are when you are doing what you do. I'm pushing and it is not for everyone, for sure, but it has normally shown good success.

"When I commit to something and there is a deadline, the deadline will be reached whatever it takes, and you have to push the limit."

Solberg's crowning glory came in 2003 when he won the world title for Subaru

Solberg's crowning glory came in 2003 when he won the world title for Subaru

Photo by: Ralph Hardwick

To succeed at the highest level of any sport requires pushing to the limit, which seems to fit perfectly with Solberg's persona and lifestyle. But when asked to reveal the coolest aspect of his life, the 49-year-old offers a rare insight into the challenges he's faced competing in a discipline that counts on zen-like concentration.

Solberg says that unbeknownst to him at the time, he suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While this could be seen as a disadvantage by some, the stats bear out that he's harnessed it successfully. A stellar WRC career spanning 1998 to 2019 includes 13 outright wins and a further 39 podiums. As Solberg explains, he is one of life's problem solvers.

"It is very easy, I keep a simple life and I'm happy every day and I enjoy," he says. "If I have an issue, I fix it straight away, I never go to bed unless everything is fixed.

"My mother got really mad! But also happy at the same time, because I never give up in anything"
Petter Solberg

"It sounds very easy, but it can be very complicated for me in my head with some ADHD, which for many years that I didn't know about. I never see a problem to be honest. It is crazy, but it is true. That is the best thing about my life. I never worry and I keep on going."

This revelation does go some way to explaining his determination to overcome any challenge set out in front of him. Take for instance how in 2009 he started up his own team as a response to Subaru's withdrawal from the WRC. It mattered little that the Xsara was no longer Citroen's current model. He missed the first round in Ireland, but was back in the service park for his home event in Norway and on the podium in just the team's second event in Cyprus.

Even before this interview began, Solberg explains a plan to undertake some construction work at his Swedish residence that he is adamant will be completed by the end of the day. Perhaps on reflection, his WRC achievements that also include three title runner-up finishes to Marcus Gronholm [2002] and Loeb [in 2004-2005], should under the circumstances be viewed in another light.

This drive was present from an early age and is perhaps best portrayed when a teenage Solberg refused to give up on a chance to win the 1987 Norwegian Tamiya Radio Controlled Car Cup. Arguably, his first major title that he won at the age of 13 would not have happened had he not gone behind his parents' backs...

Finishing third with his privateer Xsara in Cyprus 2009 on the second outing for his team exemplifies Solberg's determination

Finishing third with his privateer Xsara in Cyprus 2009 on the second outing for his team exemplifies Solberg's determination

Photo by: Sutton Images

"I was the youngest ever champion in radio-controlled cars. The trophy I won, I couldn't even lift it," he explains. "The qualification round to get to this final was 82 drivers from all around Norway and I went to four places around Norway to qualify. Then I came home again, and my mother told me to stop as I didn't qualify.

"I called my father's friend to drive me to another place, without my mother knowing. We went there, took leave from school and I won it and I qualified. My mother got really mad! But also happy at the same time, because I never give up in anything.

"I came to the final race and I won the whole thing. It was a two-day race and me and my brother [Henning, who took six outright WRC podium finishes] were staying in a hotel room together as he qualified on the first race. The organisers paid for the hotel, as we didn't have the money to do that.

 

"I qualified to the second day and my brother didn't qualify, so he stayed in the hotel room. I took the radio-controlled car and a toothbrush and washed in the shower and put it back together and test drove it at two in the morning.

"I went to the race and I was leading and the engine broke. I had no money for an engine and my parents came on that day as a surprise and they bought me an engine. I think it would have been 30 euros. And I put it in, and I won the whole thing. It is never a straightforward story [with me]!"

Solberg called time on his full-time motorsport career at the end of 2018, but hasn't lost any of his relentless energy. Along with wife Pernilla, currently the president of the WRC Commission, he's still a big force in the rally scene and as vice president of the drivers' commission played a part in getting recommendations from the WRC's biggest stars for ways to improve the championship - triggered by comments made by Thierry Neuville last year.

And his days of driving, while less regular these days, are not entirely finished either. Still a regular in the annual Race of Champions invitational, a two-time winner of the Nations' Cup alongside son Oliver, Solberg Sr came out of retirement earlier this month to compete in his first full rally since winning the WRC2 class of the 2019 Wales Rally GB.

Solberg father and son won the Race of Champions Nations' Cup in 2022 and 2023

Solberg father and son won the Race of Champions Nations' Cup in 2022 and 2023

Photo by: Race of Champions

He rolled back the years to pilot the same car at the Royal Rally of Scandinavia round of the European Rally Championship, which was won by Oliver, who continues to fly the family flag on the WRC stages in WRC2. The elder Solberg finished 15th overall on his return, which highlighted to him how competitive the rally scene has become.

"I must say, if you want to be good, you have to test a lot and have the continuity," he says. "I think this was maybe the best example of how much [work] you have to put in. Even if you are a winner from before, you cannot just step in. In rallycross and hillclimb, maybe you could do it no problem. But in rally? No chance.

"It was nothing for five years, that is tough. It [Royal Rally of Scandinavia] was a great experience and Oliver won, which was incredible to get that victory. I enjoyed every minute of it" Petter Solberg

"When I did Rally GB in 2019, I had been doing a lot of rallycross and testing and planning. I was driving a lot, so it was different. But now, it was nothing for five years, that is tough. It was a great experience and Oliver won, which was incredible to get that victory. I enjoyed every minute of it."

While this may be his last rally for a while, Solberg's zest for getting things done shows no signs of abating. And yes, in case you were wondering, he did get that DIY job finished before going to bed...

Solberg put on a show in the FIA European Rally Championship

Solberg put on a show in the FIA European Rally Championship

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Be part of Motorsport community

Join the conversation
Previous article Tanak: Impossible to avoid deer collision at Rally Poland with 0.26s to react
Next article WRC Poland: Mikkelsen leads as spectator issues cancels stage seven

Top Comments

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Motorsport prime

Discover premium content
Subscribe

Edition

Global Global