Married ... with Motorsports
Petter Solberg’s last appearance in the World Rally Championship came back in 2012. But the 2003 world champion returns – in a Polo GTI R5. As always, he can count on the support of his motorsport-mad family
Motorsport as a family business is something of a tradition in Scandinavia. However, even by Nordic standards, the Solberg family from Norway is rather exceptional. The main protagonists are brothers Petter and Henning. Petter has been world champion in two disciplines - rallying (2003) and Rallycross (2014 and 2015) - something only the 43-year-old has ever achieved. Henning, his elder by two years, is a five-time Norwegian rally champion with 128 WRC starts to his name. Then you also have Pernilla, Petter's wife, who, like her father Per-Inge Walfridsson, also enjoyed great success on the rally scene. And the next generation of Solbergs has also gone into the 'family business'. Petter's son Oliver is already one of the fastest young Rallycross and rally drivers about.
In 1982, Petter and Henning's parents, Terje and Tove, are bitten by the Autocross bug. Fast. Open. Affordable. These are the simple but powerful reasons why this original form of full-contact motorsport remains very popular today in Scandinavia. The Solbergs line up in a Beetle. Passionate mechanics Henning and Petter prepare the cars for the races.
By the time he is ten years old, Petter is already a decent mechanic. Later on, he starts to train as a painter and varnisher, so as not to become bored of tinkering with cars. He soon changes his mind, ends his apprenticeship and studies to become a car mechanic.
At this point, Petter's eventual wife Pernilla does not want anything to do with motorsport. While her father is competing in rallies all over the world, she is initially more interested in equestrian sports. At 16, she swaps one horsepower for considerably more hp - at first as a co-driver for her father, although his career is slowly drawing to a close.
When she becomes of legal age, she expresses her desire to swap places. Pernilla Walfridsson goes on to become one of the best female rally drivers in the world. When she calls time on her career at just 27, it is for one main reason: she is pregnant, with son Oliver.
Petter, the perfectionist
At that time, husband Petter is a works driver for Ford in the World Rally Championship. While brother Henning has always been regarded as a good privateer in the world championship and is still capable of producing eye-catching performances today, Petter makes the big breakthrough: through a combination of meticulous attention and a wealth of talent, he makes it into the top tier of rallying. "Henning is really quick," Petter confirms. "However, he is often satisfied with simply taking part. I, in contrast, always want to win - at any price. That is where it comes down to details, and I am a perfectionist."
There is one moment, when perfect Petter comes within a hair's breadth of making a momentous mistake: when proposing to his future wife. The location is the 2002 Rally Australia. Petter and his crew have everything planned out. A boat on the Margaret River. A gala dinner. Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender" playing in the background. However, one day before popping the question, Petter notices that he forgot the engagement ring in Norway. A good friend is flown in with the essential piece of jewellery and the story gets its happy ending. The pair marry in 2003. In the same year, Solberg is crowned world rally champion - the peak of his career.
New passion: Rallycross
Nine years later, after 188 world championship events and 13 victories, Petter Solberg brings the curtain down on his rally career in 2012, switching to Rallycross. With 600 PS, the cars are almost twice as powerful as a WRC car. The races are short and very popular for their toughness.
Petter soon finds his feet in this new terrain. He is world champion in 2014 and 2015 - with his own team. He drives, Pernilla takes care of the whole organisational side of things. And son Oliver is always in the thick of it. There is but one topic of conversation when the Solberg family meet around the dinner table: motorsport. Every aspect of it. From logistics to the perfect racing line at the next circuit. "Motorsport is very important to us. It is our life," says Pernilla. "At one point in my life, I asked myself whether I should perhaps do something 'normal'. But why? I love motorsport. That is who I am."
In 2017, the Solberg family, with the support of Volkswagen, forms the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden team. It is a success story. The team wins both titles in the FIA World Rallycross Championship in its very first year. Petter's team-mate Johan Kristoffersson wins the Drivers' Championship in the 419-kW (570-hp) Polo R Supercar. Together, the duo claims the Team title. They repeat the double in 2018.
While the Solberg family lives on a farm in Mitandersfors, Sweden, the team's headquarters are located roughly 40 kilometres away in Torsby - Pernilla's home town. The outfit employs about 20 people on a permanent basis. Petter is team owner, Pernilla team principal. They still have great plans for the future together, although Petter will presumably be making way behind the wheel for other drivers in the foreseeable future. "We want to win more titles with the team and to help young drivers become world champions," says Petter.
Oliver follows in his father's footsteps
One of those who could go on to great things is their son Oliver. He may not yet have a driving licence, but special regulations have allowed him to drive at rallies in Latvia and Estonia, as well as in the Nordic Rallycross championship. "He is faster than I was at that age," says dad Petter.
His offspring has already made history. On 7 October 2018, Oliver Solberg won the RallyX Nordic series at the age of 17 years and 14 days. In doing so, he became the youngest international champion in a Rallycross supercar. Hollywood could hardly have written a better script: 38 years earlier, to the day, Pernilla's father Per-Inge Walfridsson won the European Rallycross Championship.
This year still has one very special highlight in store for Petter Solberg. From 25 to 28 October, the 43-year-old will return to the World Rally Championship. 2,175 days after Solberg made what he believed would be his final WRC appearance, he is set to make his comeback at the same event.
Driving for Volkswagen Motorsport, he will be behind the wheel of the four-time world champion manufacturer's brand-new customer sport model - the Polo GTI R5. "The opportunity to return to the WRC with Volkswagen is unique and I was only too happy to accept the offer," says Solberg. His wife Pernilla puts it in a nutshell: "Rallycross is fantastic, but rallying lies deep in our heart. It is in our DNA."