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More than 15 years after he last contested a rally in a rear-wheel drive car, Petter Solberg won the historic section of Rally Sweden, co-driven by his wife Pernilla in a Ford Escort MkII built by the company owned by his former co-driver Phil Mills.
 
Petter and Pernilla tested the Viking Motorsport car for just 40 kilometres before the start, while Petter’s last rally in a rear-wheel drive car was in 1996 at the wheel of an original Volvo 240. But it was as if he had never been away as he dominated some of the most famous snow-covered stages in the world.
 
“It was a fantastic experience!” said the 2003 World Rally Champion. “Completely different to anything I have done before but incredible! To see all the fans on the stages and feel their support was an amazing experience. It wasn’t an easy rally for us – we were using organisers’ pace notes like everyone else and we also had a jammed gearbox – but in the end we were able to win, which means a lot to me and a lot to the team.”
 
The gearbox problem meant that the Ford Escort was stuck in gear for the Karlstad superspecial stage, but some swift work from Petter’s mechanics meant that he was able to seal the overall victory – despite paying little attention to the recommendations from Phil Mills.
 
“Phil said that we mustn’t rev the car more than 9400rpm, but actually we were shifting at 10400rpm all the time!” said Petter at the finish. “This car just revs and revs: it’s an unbelievable sound. Today was all about putting on the best show we could for the spectators and I hope we gave them something to remember: we were certainly trying.”
 
Behind every strong man there is an even stronger woman, and Pernilla Solberg admitted that she took a little time to adapt herself to the organisers’ pacenotes. “I don’t think I’m very good at reading pacenotes,” she said. “On the first stage I was way too fast: I think I was halfway through the stage on my notes before Petter had even driven two kilometres! Then on the second stage I was much too slow. By the end I think I had found more of a balance…”
 
This was Petter’s second victory in Sweden, to add to the overall win he claimed in 2005 with Subaru. Unbelievably, his speed ensured he would have finished somewhere around 20th overall on the full World Championship event had he done all the stages – despite using a 37-year-old car with just two driven wheels, over roads that were often too slippery to stand up on.
 
Petter will now concentrate on preparing for his first rallycross campaign this year, again running a car with his own team. As the popular Norwegian puts it himself: “This is my life”.


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