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Finland has always been a special place for Petter ‘Hollywood’ Solberg. It’s the closest rallycross round – so far – to be held to his native Norway and a country that is very closely associated with rallying and rallycross, with massively enthusiastic fans.
In the WRC, Petter has finished on the podium in Finland twice – but he has never actually won there. This weekend, he aims to put that right at round four of the FIA European Rallycross Championship, held in Kouvola.
Although this will only be Petter’s fourth rallycross event since 1996, he has shown the speed to win on every occasion – even setting the lap record at only the second round of the year, in Portugal.
But he has also been affected by bad luck and mechanical issues on his self-built Citroen DS3 Supercar, with the team struggling to play catch-up after having to assemble the car from scratch in only three weeks flat. It shouldn’t have been possible. But it was…
One of the problems that prevented Petter from reaching the final at the last rallycross round in Hungary was a persistent misfire, which proved impossible to trace and solve. After the event Petter decided to fly engine builder Julian Godfrey and systems engineer Francois Regnier into the team’s Torsby workshop to try and get to the bottom of the problem – with the 600-horsepower engine due for a rebuild anyway after three events.
After much investigation, the experts finally identified the cause of the persistent problem: a faulty sensor. With so many sensors within the car, it had previously been like looking for a needle in a haystack: but the team is now confident that the engine problems are behind them. Furthermore, Petter’s car will have a brand new engine for the Kouvola event while the original unit is reconditioned. Following the latest improvements, Petter tested his all-carbon car at the airfield in Torsby.
So the team makes the (for once) relatively short journey to Finland full of optimism. Petter said: “It feels absolutely fantastic to have finally solved the issue that has been a real problem for us since the start of the year. Our team started the season with no experience of rallycross at all, and we never expected to have to build our own car. Under the circumstances they did a great job, but we needed the help of the experts to really understand the cause of what had been holding us back. Of course, we’ve still got plenty more to learn and much more development to come on the car, but I think we head to Finland in a really strong position. The car feels better than it has ever done before, and we’ve showed in the past that we have the speed to win. Now we just need to make sure everything comes together as it should.”
Kouvola is in south-central Finland, around 130 kilometres northeast of Helsinki, marking the first of three Scandinavian rounds of the FIA European Rallycross Championship this year. The track is hugely popular, providing spectators with great views of all the action from every vantage point.
The run down to the first corner, after which the surface changes from asphalt to gravel, is particularly crucial, before a twisty infield section.  And just as is the case for the country’s WRC round, a notable feature of the Kouvola circuit is its massive jumps as the cars leap into the air. The biggest jump is on top of the hill on the loose section, while the final jump leading to the start-finish straight is crucial to a quick lap time.
Practice and the opening heats take place on Saturday, with the final on Sunday.
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