You can take the Petter Solberg out of competition. But you’ll never take the competitor out of Petter Solberg. He just couldn’t help himself.
It was a PR stunt. Nothing more. Just take Pirelli’s Citroën C3 WRC and give it a blast around the Rally Italy shakedown stage. Just a handful of miles to play himself in for Sunday. And the real PR stunt.
Sunday is, of course, the day Petter Solberg takes a Rally1 car back to a competitive stage for the first time in eight years. And he’ll do so with Andreas Mikkelsen – Pirelli’s chief test driver – alongside.
Today was Solberg’s first time with a new car and a new co-driver. But something’s never change.
Two runs in and he arrives back to the team with that thoughtful Solberg head on.
“I was thinking about the set-up…”
What followed was a fantastic insight into how to find more traction for the second run of stages and a solid reminder of what the WRC’s been missing post-Petter.
Ready for the third and final run and I’m beckoned to a two-metre distance from his door.
“What’s Oliver’s time,” he said. “Am I faster?”
Good to see, even at a WRC level, the father-and-son rivalry never goes away.
Three runs done and it’s smiles all around.
“Hey, that was good fun,” said Solberg. “It was really nice to be able to help Pirelli and be here to show off the new tires. But it was also really nice to get into this car and drive like this again. Fantastic.”
And the co-driver?
“Actually, he was good too. I think he thought he was Phil Mills or Chris Patterson a little bit, but seriously, Andreas was very good and very professional.”
Mikkelsen did his bit. Bang on with the notes.
“I am always scared when I am a passenger in a rally car,” said Pirelli’s test driver. “But this time I wasn’t – for the first time! And I wasn’t scared because I was so busy!
“Like Petter said, it was a lot of fun.”
Solberg leans in: “And now we are ready for the powerstage.”
Mikkelsen: “We take five points there!”
And Solberg’s times, while they were unofficial, they were impressive and would certainly have put him within a couple of seconds of the Rally1 midfielders.
But mainly, it was good to have Solberg and Mikkelsen back. Even better to see them having such a good time and, perhaps, most crucially of all, very, very encouraging to see Pirelli’s new boots working so well.