Solberg set for Lydden

by Hal Ridge |

Petter Solberg says that he will race in the opening round of the 2013 FIA European Rallycross Championship at Lydden on March 312-April 1. The statement follows an earlier announcement confirming that he is embarking on a career move to Rallyross in 2013, driving a Citroen DS3 Supercar.

The 2003 World Rally Champion is believed to have evaluated a number of different motor sport disciplines before settling on Rallycross, since announcing his retirement from the WRC. Solberg’s presence in the Rallycross paddock will be welcomed by both fans and competitors alike. However, Solberg’s move from the rally stage to the Rallycross circuit is not unusual; many have made the move before him, with varying levels of success.

Marcus Gronhölm arrived on the Rallycross scene in 2008, winning his debut event at Höljes, Sweden with relative ease at the wheel of an OMSE Ford Fiesta. Sweden was the first of three events in 2008 for the Finnish driver, although they would not all reap the same rewards. In Holland he couldn’t find the pace, Poland at the end of the season had the same tale, although the two-time WRC champion did use his never give up attitude; rolling the car in the Joker Lap in the first heat before restarting the engine and finishing the race, with remarkably little time loss. Since then, Gronhölm has contested Global Rallycross events in America with an impressive win-to-start ratio against a mix of opposition.

One of those that Gronhölm raced against in America was nine-time World Rally champion Sebastian Loeb, who raced at X-Games last summer in a Hansen Motorsport-built Citroën DS3. Or rather he didn’t, as a serious practice crash removed Gronhölm from the event in which Loeb claimed victory without breaking sweat. Currently Loeb’s only foray into Rallycross, but without full time commitment in the WRC this season, may he tempted back for more to take on Solberg?

Another full time WRC driver to make the Rallycross switch was Belgian Francois Duval, who showed brilliant speed in rallying but seemed unable to keep it on the road. Half a dozen or so events over a three year period in Rallycross saw one outright win in Belgium, driving a Pauwels Motorsport-run Ford Focus Supercar. Other events in the same car and in a Pallier Competition Peugeot 207 failed to bring more of the wins his sponsors required to keep his funding going.

Solberg’s own brother, Henning, has also been in and out of Rallycross in recent years. At his most successful he was regularly in the top six driving an OMSE Ford Fiesta, but later events running his own outfit did nothing for his speed where he struggled to make the grade.

It isn’t just a recent trend for drivers to move from the WRC to Rallycross. Frenchman François Delecour was both fast and impressive in France in 1992, standing in for the banned Martin Schanche. Delecour was beaten that day by another driver that had moved across from rallying, albeit at a national level, Pat Doran.

Delecour was still a full time WRC driver when he dabbled in Rallycross, as was Stig Blomqvist when he dropped in and out of Rallycross in the 1980s, driving a privately run Audi Quattro and later Ford Motorsport’s own development RS200.

Earlier still, John Taylor was a big Rallycross Star, indeed the first European Champion in 1973 driving a Ford Escort, before making his way into a successful career in rallying. That in itself is interesting; most of those listed here have come from rallying to Rallycross, but not Taylor. Nor indeed Petter Solberg, who started his career in Rallycross before moving away. That should stand the Norwegian in good stead. Most rally drivers struggle with the close contact and racing in Rallycross; although Solberg may be a little race rusty, he already has all the tricks of the trade under his belt. If the car is right, Solberg should be fighting for the top spot straight away.

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