Why was future world champion Petter Solberg nearly sent packing from only his second WRC start with a factory team for driving too fast?
Sounds a little far-fetched to be true? Not a bit of it. Just another adventure in the extraordinary career of Mr Hollywood.
In 1999 as a fresh-faced, eager to please and enthusiastic rookie at Ford, the then 24-year-old Solberg was drafted into the Blue Oval’s Safari Rally line-up at the last minute for his Focus World Rally Car debut alongside illustrious team-mate Colin McRae.
Team boss Malcolm Wilson sent three-time Safari winner Fred Gallagher to Kenya to provide experience for the young Norwegian – and to keep his unboubted pace in check on the car-breaking Rift Valley roads.
The plan was quickly in chaos after Solberg’s enthusiasm got the better of him and he set a remarkable time in the pre-event shakedown, which more than tested Wilson’s ability to keep cool in the searing heat.
“He almost sent me home!” Solberg tells Becs Williams in a fascinating interview for the latest WRC Backstories podcast.
“I was too fast on the shakedown and I get a b******ing from Malcolm and I was down on the floor and crying. He was absolutely right.
“I was a very sensitive person so it’s hard to tackle that world when you are coming from this small farm in Norway into the big world, so it was a big step. I did not have anybody to ask or learn from. In one way I deserved it,” explained Solberg, who learned his lesson and went on to finish fifth after a remarkable drive.
Solberg laughs as he recalls being told to shut up by McRae and Carlos Sainz when they tired of him constantly asking questions in an attempt to learn. But the Norwegian struck up a firm friendship with McRae, who won the WRC title 25 years ago on Sunday (22 November).
“Being in the team with Colin and Carlos was a big thing. Colin was so nice to me and helped me. We trained a lot together and went for dinners a lot.
“He took care of me, when I was in the s*** sometimes with crashing. It was good motivation help from him because I think he had been through the same himself, maybe on a different scale. It was good to have this friendship feeling,” reflects Solberg.
As always with Solberg, the interview features some hilarious stories, including the purchase of his first rally car and his debut with brother Henning’s wife, Maud, in the co-driver’s seat.
He also talks of his attempts to steer son Oliver into football, tennis or ice hockey before the motorsport bug bit, and his dream of bringing more manufacturers into the WRC.