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Petter Solberg at 2017 World RX | Barcelona, Spain

Final countdown: Petter Solberg on World RX 2018

Mar 292018

Six months. That’s all it took for Petter Solberg, Johan Kristoffersson, and the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden Team to wreak havoc on their rivals, and go from a ‘new entrant’ outfit to FIA World Rallycross Driver and Team champions.

Even for drivers of Solberg and Kristoffersson’s caliber it was an unprecedented achievement. When the pair pulled the covers off their 600bhp Polo GTi Supercar at the 2017 pre-season launch, the car had barely been in existence - in the metal - for a handful of months.

Over the course of the next ten events of the 12-round World RX calendar, Petter and Johan scored a combined 13 podiums and eight wins. The resulting unassailable lead built up by Johan in particular saw him lock down the drivers’ championship two races before the end of the season, and spray the championship champagne in the race paddock in Latvia.

Arguably it could have been seen as a bittersweet moment for former World RX and WRC champion Petter. Although Johan had beaten him to the punch in the drivers’ title race, the team championship spoils meant the successful culmination of years worth of effort of turning his privateer PSRX squad into a winning manufacturer backed outfit.

Now just moments away from a second season with factory Volkswagen power under the hood Petter is resolute. The only follow up to last year’s double championship success, is the same again; but with one difference. This time the race is on between Johan and himself, and the three-time FIA World Champion is determined to come out on top.

Having spent the winter working hard in the team workshops in Torsby, Sweden, as well as in the cockpit of a selection of rally machinery, Solberg has his eyes on the prize…

" The thing is we are working to prepare everything 110% and for sure we have worked hard on the development of the car to make it even better than before."

Hi Petter, did you have a relaxing winter break?

It’s never relaxing! The thing is we are working to prepare everything 110% and for sure we have worked hard on the development of the car to make it even better than before. That’s been the main focus for us over the off-season; to work on all the small details of performance. The field will be so competitive this coming season, and we need to be as prepared as possible. At the same time Oliver has done some rallies and a lot of testing as well. On top of all that I also did the Swedish Rally in the Historic class in my blue Ford Escort. It was enough to be honest, but it’s also important to not have a break from driving, and keep logging the kilometers.

Was it a relief to go into the winter holiday as champions, or do you feel more pressure because of this?

No, there was no pressure – it was a fantastic feeling. I’m a dreamer, so when I achieve something, I forget quite quickly and start focusing on the next goal. Specifically for this championship, it was a big dream already.

A double championship is the goal for 2018?

Honestly for me personally, I’m putting myself under much more pressure to win the drivers’ world championship. Last year I focused so much on the team – and for us to try and win the teams’ championship – so now this season I want to go back to pushing a little bit more for me to win the drivers championship! For sure Johan will be up there too – so we have a strong team that can fight for a good result whatever happens.

How is the dynamic now between you and Johan?

It’s fantastic. To have a team, and a team mate, that you can work with and who can also achieve so much, and become world champion by using the same strategy and structure – is great thing. It’s actually been a big boost for me also. It made me very proud; what the team and Johan achieved. But for sure, this year I want to push more to win the championship myself.

"We had a big meeting at the beginning of the season with all of the mechanics and team members and also Johan to discuss what is important in order to win."

But you still want to beat him?

Yeah, last year I was a very kind person, but this year I will be pushing him hard!

What were the lessons learned last year?

In a positive way the main lesson itself was to be able to create an atmosphere in the team in which two cars could compete with respect for each other. Before the season started we had a plan of how we were going to work with tow cars and 80 staff in the team. It was very important to us, that we shared all the information we had equally across both cars and work towards being champions.

What was the feeling of going from new team to champions in such a short space of time?

We had a big meeting at the beginning of the season with all of the mechanics and team members and also Johan to discuss what is important in order to win. It’s easy to say that you want to win, but achieving it is something different entirely. There are so many small details involved in being successful. I said then, that if we follow our plan and respect it, then anything is possible. We haven’t had a single black flag or warning during the season, and I think we achieved the result with the maximum respect for the other drivers too, which was very important.

Your strategy at PSRX has always been consistency, but with the gap being so small at the top of the field, has that changed?

Not really; because now we have set ourselves a level to operate from. For sure the level of competition will have moved up a gear again this year, so I’m sure it will be harder. But we have to be smart enough to not get one big bad result, which could compromise the whole season.

How was the feeling to get back in the car for testing?

The car is good! There have been quite a lot of different changes for sure. It still needs some more work, because you should never be completely happy. Of course you need to be careful in being sure that what you have done is correct. The development should never stop, because if you get to the first race and have complaints it’s too late. It’s better to look at all the details now, be humble about it, and get everything right. We have a little bit of work to do, and there are a few more days left until Barcelona; but we are in the window to assure that we have a good car.

What are the updates to new Polo?

There’s one big update, and lots of small ones, but I can’t tell you what they are at this stage! What I can say is that this season’s Polo is an evolution of last season’s Polo. We haven’t built a brand new car; instead we have improved it in all areas!

There are a couple of new additions this year – Silverstone and Austin – what are your thoughts on the new circuits?

The race in America and new venues is something I have been pushing to have for a long time. I think it’s going to be very exciting for the new fans and markets that the sport comes to. Hopefully we will have some races in Asia soon too – for me it’s only positive with the new venues. Ok, moving from Lydden Hill was tough – it is a fantastic track and I loved it to bits. But now that the 2017 season is done – we have to look forward, and focus on the positives. I’m sure IMG will do everything to make the Speedmachine weekend.

What venue would you like to make a return to the calendar

Not really, you have to look forward to develop, and for this reason I think it’s important to keep a good mix of the historic and iconic tracks alongside the new venues. This, combined with the great racing, is what I think will keep the fans interested in the championship.

What are your final preparations before Barcelona?

All the trucks and trailers are getting their final preparations now – we have brand new Scania trucks coming with new trailers. In addition to that we have some new touches to the service park, which will be great for the fans. Testing is done now – Silverstone was the final time out – so it’s flat out to Barcelona now!