Petter Solberg on his rally return and electrical motorsport

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Petter Solberg in motion on Rally Spain
The rally champion turned rallycross star returned to the levels with Volkswagen on Rally Spain

Petter Solberg, the 2003 World Rally champion, hasn’t competed on the highest stage of the game since making a profitable change to rallycross in 2013 – a class by which he grew to become a double world champion in 2014 and ’15.

The Norwegian final competed on a World Rally Championship occasion on Rally Spain in 2012, however after a six-year break was tempted again into motion on the Catalunya occasion this weekend.

Solberg wasn’t competing within the prime division for World Rally Automobiles however within the second-tier WRC2 division, which meant swapping his 600bhp-plus Volkswagen Polo Supercar for a much less highly effective 1.6-litre Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, which is constructed to the cost-controlled R5 class guidelines and is much nearer to a street automobile.

Solberg was competing for the Volkswagen Motorsport squad, which was itself making a return to the game it dominated between 2013 and 2016. The agency received 4 straight WRC titles with Sebastien Ogier, however this comeback was a one-off to showcase the Polo GTI R5 on its debut, forward of deliveries to clients starting.

Solberg made a formidable return within the new 1.6-litre Polo GTI R5, battling for the category lead early within the occasion earlier than falling again a bit in tough damp situations on Saturday and Sunday’s Tarmac levels.

Autocar caught up with Solberg, now 43, to debate his rallying return and his views on the way forward for rallycross.

How does it really feel to be again in rallying?

“It’s good. On the primary day I had massive enjoyment on the gravel levels. I had a check day earlier than the occasion, however on the longest stage of the day we had been sturdy. I had some points on the smaller levels, however by way of efficiency I’m very happy – and stunned. I used to be simply joyful to be right here and to be a part of this.”

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How did the chance with Volkswagen come about?

“Sven [Smeets, Volkswagen Motorsport boss] knew I needed to do another rally. We’ve mentioned it for a very long time, nevertheless it needed to be the fitting alternative on the proper time. We had been taking a look at Sweden, however I had an sickness [the lung disease Sarkoidose] just lately, and that modified issues lots. Whenever you undergo one thing like that it adjustments your method a bit bit.”

How onerous is it to modify from a 600bhp rallycross automobile to an R5 rally automobile with just below 300bhp?

“The beginning line is the most important distinction! Whenever you begin an occasion in a rallycross automobile, your head is thrown again – Zero-100kmh in 6.9 seconds. However for fulfilling driving, with the chassis and so forth and the way it handles, the rally automobile is absolutely good enjoyable. For positive, it’s tougher to drive with much less horsepower, particularly while you’re used to it on a regular basis.”

Did it take time to regulate?

“I switched the mentality in a short time, however essentially the most tough was that I do know the place I misplaced just a few seconds – it was on the very excessive velocity bits that require dedication. I used to be not to go proper to the restrict by way of danger. It’s fairly an enormous distinction having to belief in pacenotes once more: if I’ve within the pacenotes ‘flat six proper’, I hear it however I don’t do it. I’m 43 now, so the safeness is right here [points to his head]. For those who’d requested me earlier than after I was youthful, I didn’t have that safeness, it was flat-out. Its life, and now you come and have enjoyable with it and luxuriate in it.”

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Is that this a one-off, or may you do extra rallies subsequent yr?

“I’ll undoubtedly not compete in rallying subsequent yr. I’ve been doing motorsport since 1982, and I adore it. However I wish to look a bit into the long run, for youthful drivers. You’ll be able to see that in my rallycross staff with Johan Kristofferson [who won the world rallycross title in 2017 and 2018]. He’s actually realized, and he’s taking ideas and he’s not cocky. Drivers like wish to study, and to take one of the best from everyone, like I did with Carlos [Sainz], Colin [McRae] and Tommi [Makinen]. That was what made me so good: I used to be asking them lots of questions after I was their team-mate. It takes lots of time to study in rallying, and I wish to assist them. So I can’t drive in rallying. The plan is to proceed in rallycross and we’ve got the whole lot able to do it. However the previous couple of weeks have been a bit tough [for the sport], and we might want to see the scenario with that championship. There are lots of issues occurring.”

The World Rallycross Championship has been taking a look at a change to electrical automobiles, however these plans have been delayed. What are your ideas? 

“We have to suppose for the long run, and for after all electrical is essential for the long run. Rallycross is the one motorsport that may deal with electrical very simply, you may have automobiles with 700bhp and nonetheless have massive motion. I can perceive some individuals are involved concerning the noise – I perceive that, it’s the identical for me – however I feel we have to take a look at this in a totally completely different approach.”

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May rallycross miss the boat if it doesn’t embrace electrical quickly?

“That’s query. Electrical is coming [to motorsport], undoubtedly. One cause is that the producers have to have a narrative behind one thing to assist it, which electrical has. For younger drivers will probably be the most important alternative for them to get into the game: the producer groups may have 4 automobiles, after which there will likely be extra possibilities to get the younger guys in. I began my rally profession as a 3rd driver, with no stress: I crashed lots, however I got here again once more as a result of I had time to construct the package deal and the expertise.”

Do you get as a lot enjoyment from serving to younger drivers now as profitable your self?

“Having a younger team-mate in Johan and serving to him to be world champion, that provides me lots of satisfaction. It’s unusual, nevertheless it’s actually good enjoyable. Even when they beat you it doesn’t matter. For those who assist somebody with the technique, or the chassis or the small print about traction and perfectionism, it’s a part of it – after which you’re a part of it.”

Learn extra

Volkswagen Polo GTI overview

Producers given extra time for electrical rallycross change

Driving a rallycross supercar at Lydden Hill

Volkswagen quits WRC at finish of 2016


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