This Is My Life
Petter Solberg was born in the Norwegian village of Askim on November 18, 1974. Coming from a family of petrolheads, it was very obvious what Petter’s mission in life was going to be from a very young age. But nobody would guess just what a worldwide phenomenon Petter would go on to become.
In the meantime, while he was growing up on the family farm, Petter faced a serious problem: the lack of a driving licence. So his earliest taste of four-wheeled competition came in the form of radio-controlled cars. Aged 13, he won his first championship. His other big interest at the time was disco dancing, and while he picked up a few awards for that as well, it’s safe to say that he was never going to make a career out of it.
Petter started his driving career, appropriately enough, in rallycross. He entered his first event in 1992, three days after turning 18 and getting his licence. Rallycross was his life until 1995, when he discovered stage rallying: once more in ancient Volvo, the mainstay of Scandinavian motorsport. Just three years later, he was Norwegian Rally Champion.
A bit like Petter himself, his career momentum seemed unstoppable. He was recruited by Ford in 1998 and made a spectacular debut as a nominated driver on the 1999 Safari Rally – the toughest event of them all. He was only drafted in days before the start, when factory driver Thomas Radstrom broke his leg at the team hotel. Yet with a fifth-place finish, Petter confounded all expectations.
And that’s been the story of his career ever since. His first World Rally Championship win came on the 2002 Wales Rally GB with Subaru and on the same event a year later he clinched the title. To this day, Petter is the only driver to have beaten Sebastien Loeb – the most successful driver in the history of rallying – to a world championship over the course of a full season. He was soon nicknamed ‘Hollywood’, due to his crowd-pleasing tendencies that even involved him climbing onto the roof of his car while it was moving: normally at the end of a spectator superspecial stage.
But after 13 wins, Petter’s world was turned on its head when Subaru – known as ‘the Ferrari of rallying’ – announced its shock withdrawal from the sport at the end of 2008, citing the global economic downturn.
A lesser man would have crumbled. Not Petter. In record time he built up his own team from scratch, rescuing an ageing Citroen Xsara WRC from a museum to ensure that he was back out as soon as possible. He found all the sponsors himself, but on the car’s spoiler was a more personal message: “this is my life”. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before he was winning stages again.
Last year Petter was recruited to the Ford factory team, sweeping up five podiums and leading several rallies over the course of the season. But it was time for a new challenge, which is why Petter went back to his first love: rallycross.
Just as he did at the beginning of 2009, Petter once again built up his own team, using his winning charm to gain sponsorship while recruiting friends, family and trusted experts to move the project forwards. He still found time to win the historic section of Rally Sweden this year however, driving his own Ford Escort MkII with his wife Pernilla as co-driver.
Now though, it’s time to get back to work. Welcome to the latest spectacular chapter in ‘Hollywood’s’ rollercoaster career.