Solberg debuted in the World Rally Championship in 1998 and was signed by the Ford factory team in 1999. The following year, Solberg started his successful partnership with the Subaru World Rally Team.
With the Subaru works team, Solberg finished runner-up to Marcus Grönholm in 2002 and then became the first Norwegian to win the drivers' world title in 2003. In the following two seasons, he finished runner-up to Sébastien Loeb. Following Subaru's withdrawal from the WRC at the end of the 2008 season, Solberg secured private backing to start the Petter Solberg World Rally Team and competed with a Citroën Xsara WRC, a Citroën C4 WRC and a Citroën DS3 WRC. He switched to rallycross after the 2012 season and in 2014 became the inaugural winner of the FIA World Rallycross Championship, after 5 race wins and 9 podium finishes. He repeated his title success the following year.
Solberg won a nationwide RC car championship the Norwegian Tamiya Cup in 1987 at the age of 13 as he inherited his interest of motorsport through his parents, mother Tove and father Terje, who were keen bilcross (an "inexpensive version" of Norwegian rallycross, similar to Swedish folkrace and Finnish jokamiehenluokka) competitors and rallycross enthusiasts. He used to help out around the home farm rebuilding competition cars, as he was not yet old enough to drive. Solberg entered his first bilcross in 1992, three days after his 18th birthday and only one day after he got his driving license. He went on to become Norwegian champion in rallycross as well as hillclimb in both 1995 (winning 19 out of 21 events) and 1996 (winning 15 out of 19 events). In 1995 he took part in his maiden rally, the Norwegian Rally Bjørkelangen, by driving a Volvo 240 in the Volvo Original class. His female co-driver by then was Maud from Sweden, nowadays spouse of his older brother Henning. In 1998 Solberg became the Norwegian Rally Champion, his brother Henning won this title five times in a row between 1999 and 2003.
By this time and with the aid of his compatriot John Haugland, who helped him on events in the late 1990s, the World Rally Championship team bosses were starting to recognize Solberg's potential and by the end of 1998, after winning a comparative test drive, he agreed to drive for three years as a junior pilot for the Ford Motor Company. Initially expected by Malcolm Wilson to maintain a somewhat lower profile, Solberg actually became a nominated points-scorer for Ford on, of all events, the gruelling test that was the Safari Rally in early 1999, after usual understudy to the team's star driver Colin McRae, Thomas Rådström, suffered an injury and was subsequently ruled out from taking part.
In 2000 however, Solberg was able to leave Ford's M-Sport outfit prematurely, due to an insufficient contract, to sign with the Subaru World Rally Team (SWRT), then led by a driving staff of Richard Burns and Juha Kankkunen. His first podium had to wait until the Acropolis Rally, Greece the following year, as an altruistic Solberg forsook as many of his own points as possible, as he did in dropping voluntarily from 4th to 5th in Sanremo, to assist his senior team mate Burns in sneaking to the title.
In 2002 with four-time champion Tommi Mäkinen installed as his new team mate in the light of Burns' departure to Peugeot, Solberg won his first ever WRC event in Wales (Wales Rally GB) after a consistent display of driving prowess and an unlikely accident by Marcus Grönholm. In 2003, Solberg beat fellow WRC young-gun, Citroen-mounted Sébastien Loeb at the Wales Rally GB, launching him to his second win in Wales and his first and only World Rally Championship title. Solberg became the first Norwegian to win the drivers' world title.
In his title defence however, Solberg's winning of five of a possible sixteen events, including the hat-trick making Wales Rally GB, proved insufficient to deny the title to a now increasingly efficient Loeb. On Solberg's part, a perhaps unfortunate string of bad luck was encapsulated by three DNFs (retirements) in mid-season.
Welcoming a new team-mate for the year in Australian Chris Atkinson, who replaced the disappointing Finn who had been the former Champion's SWRT team-mate throughout 2004, Mikko Hirvonen, Solberg started his 2005 season brightly as he sought an immediate answer to Loeb, the Norwegian winning two of the first three events, in Sweden and Mexico. These successes coincided with the early seizing of a championship lead. He was, however, soon overtaken by a rampant Loeb, and was left to score 71 points for the year, pipping Peugeot's Marcus Grönholm to the championship runner-up spot on a tie break.
He added an unwanted Wales Rally GB win after the death in a day three crash of fellow competitor Markko Märtin's co-driver, Michael Park, with Loeb sacrificing his victory on the road in order to avoid having to simultaneously celebrate the title. Solberg won three rallies in all, though was severely affected by bad luck while challenging for wins at the end of the season, most notably on the Telstra Rally Australia, where he was forced to retire after striking a wayward kangaroo.
For 2006, Solberg continued his partnership with the Subaru team, driving a new version of the Impreza WRC. His main sponsor was 24SevenOffice with a 5 million kroner sponsorship deal, a Norwegian record. His results, though, proved patchy in comparison to Loeb. While Loeb went on to register five rally victories on the bounce in a privately (Kronos) run Citroën Xsara WRC, his winning of the title unhampered even by breaking his arm at an advanced stage of the season, Solberg could only comparatively muster a handful of runner-up places on rallies all season — in Mexico, Argentina and Australia. Failure to claw his way any higher than sixth in the year's final points standings duly brought an end to the chain of top three drivers' championship appearances which Subaru had enjoyed since 1994.
The Norwegian did, at least, get his 2007 season off to a rather more auspicious start, managing a joint-career-best finish of sixth place on the Rally Monte Carlo. He surrendered a potential third-place finish in Sweden after a substantial time loss, as well as being bested by his brother, Henning, in the race for the final podium place on the siblings' home event – Rally Norway. In Mexico, Argentina and Sardinia Solberg struggled with his Impreza — technical problems caused two retirements and a plummet down the leaderboard in Italy. Good pace in Portugal and taking third place on the Acropolis Rally at least appeared to mark a turnaround in the quality of the younger Solberg's results, although even Greek event wasn't problem-free for the Norwegian as he experienced some damper problems.
Despite Subaru's confidence in their car performance and reliability built up during summer break tests, Impreza S12A failed again — Solberg had to retire on day two in Finland, after monstrous handling and steering problems which the engineers were unable to deal with. On the next round, Rallye Deutschland, where he finished sixth, the car by itself was reliable, but the Norwegian hit a rock on SS5 heavily damaging the steering, which had cost him considerable amount of time because the team wasn't able to fully repair it. The New Zealand event was another problem-ridden outing for Solberg — he described the handling difficulties as similar to those he had experienced in Finland earlier.
At the next round on Rally Catalunya, it was a difficult rally for Solberg — he struggled to maintain a good pace and in the end finished sixth, almost 3 minutes adrift from the winner, Loeb. He was however pleased with changes in car setup made for day 3, which seemed promising for the following Tour de Corse. Unfortunately for the Norwegian, the setup wasn't as good and he had problems with handling again which, along with a stalled engine on the start of SS5, resulted in a disappointing fifth place, behind young Finn Jari-Matti Latvala. In Japan, his team's home event, Solberg clocked several top-ten times on the early stages, but crashed badly on SS5 then, probably due to damage sustained in accident, his gearbox locked in sixth gear, forcing his retirement for the day. He later rejoined the competition under the SupeRally format and finished 16th, managing to score two points in the Manufacturers' Championship. On the day of his 33rd birthday, Solberg finished fifth on Rally Ireland, calling it "the most difficult rally he has ever done"; he had also found his car's performance better than in previous events.
On the final event of the season, Wales Rally GB, Solberg had consistent pace and won the battle for fourth with Spaniard Dani Sordo even though the Norwegian hit a rock in the morning and again had some minor handling issues. This result allowed Subaru to retain their third place in the Manufacturers' Championship, and Solberg ended the 2007 season in fifth place overall. He also took part in the 2007 Race of Champions, representing Norway, along with his brother, Henning. He didn't manage to win the first race with David Coulthard, but in Nation's Cup Norwegian brothers made their way to the semi-finals.
For the 2008 season, Solberg and Atkinson were retained by SWRT as driving staff. Solberg started his season with a fifth place in Monte Carlo and fourth in Sweden, but went on to retire or finish outside point-scoring positions in the following four events. A radical new hatchback homologation of the long-serving Subaru Impreza, the WRC2008, debuted on the Acropolis Rally, marked by the Norwegian collecting a runner-up spot to Sébastien Loeb.
Although Solberg went on to break his personal record in consecutive point-scoring finishes, Acropolis remained his only podium of the season. He finished sixth overall in the drivers' championship, four points behind teammate Chris Atkinson, while Subaru took third place in the manufacturers' standings.
Subaru announced on 16 December 2008 that they would not be participating in the World Rally Championship any longer, a mere day after Suzuki announced their withdrawal. Solberg and co-driver Phil Mills were left without a ride. Looking at their options with the remaining teams they had to sit out the 2009 season opening Rally Ireland. After careful evaluation of several privateer options including Ford and Citroën cars, Solberg confirmed having acquired (most likely leased) a Citroën Xsara WRC (in 2006 WRC spec) as of 25 January 2009, and that Phil Mills and himself would return to the WRC in a privateer team for the 2009 Rally Norway. On 1 February 2009, Solberg indicated that five sponsors for the 2009 season were in place. The sponsors announced were Microsoft, Pareto, Hurtigruta Carglass and two undisclosed sponsors.
On 6 February 2009, Solberg officially unveiled the Petter Solberg World Rally Team, with himself as driver and Phil Mills as codriver. The team served Solberg and his 2006-spec. Citroën Xsara WRC with active suspension and diffs. A 13-member team, PSWRT employed ex-Subaru World Rally Team members Ken Rees as team manager, and François-Xavier "FX" Demaison as chief engineer. The PSWRT also returned Solberg's personal friend and ex-SWRT member, Tore Dahl, to the WRC scene as a mechanic. Swede Sven-Inge Neby, for about 40 years the engineer of Petter's father-in-law Per-Inge Walfridsson and his brothers Lars-Erik Walfridsson and Stig-Olov Walfridsson, is another support to the international team.
It took some time to adapt to the new car during their first round in Norway, but eventually Solberg and Mills managed to secure a sixth place and three points in the drivers' championship. Following that result and a new engine from Citroën, Solberg finished third in the Cyprus Rally, being the first true privateer in a privately run team to be in the podium since Malcolm Wilson back in 1993. Solberg managed to repeat this feat in Sardinia.
Solberg and Mills retained their consistent fight for 3rd and 4th position through the three next rallies; Portugal, Argentina (Retired from 3rd position due to loss of fuel pressure on the final stage) and Italy. Solberg "threatened" to swap to a Peugeot 307 WRC, unless he got the 2006 spec upgrades for his Xsara. He received the upgrades (mainly improved intercooler and mechanical differentials) for Sardinia, which made them able to defend a 3rd place, in very hot conditions. Solberg expressed that they were unable to push harder in hot temperatures, and remained open to analyze what to do for the next events. Solberg was believed to be in talks of upgrading to a Peugeot 307 CC but decided to stick with the Xsara. After retiring from Rally Finland, Solberg decided to miss Australia to concentrate on finding a more competitive car. After testing a Citroën C4 WRC in France, and a Ford Focus RS WRC in Britain, Solberg confirmed he would drive a C4 at the final two rounds of the season, Rally Catalunya and Wales Rally GB. The car was to be a 2008-spec C4, but would feature updates to bring it as close as possible to the factory cars of Sébastien Loeb and Dani Sordo. Solberg continued to drive for his own Petter Solberg World Rally Team for Catalunya, but was a nominated points scorer for the Citroen Junior Team at Wales Rally GB, alongside Sebastien Ogier. He finished in 4th position in both of these events, and ended up 5th in the overall 2009 Drivers' Championship standings.
Solberg announced on 12 January 2010 that he had purchased two Citroën C4 WRC (2009-spec) cars from Citroën and that he would compete in the 2010 World Rally Championship. On the Swedish Rally Solberg was unable to find the rhythm and pace, and finished 9th earning him 2 points. At the second round of the season, the Corona Mexico Rally, Solberg held the lead after day 1, with a 27sec gap down to Loeb on 3rd. With Solberg sweeping the road on Saturday Loeb advanced to a 55 sec lead by the end of the day, with Solberg on 2nd place 2.7 sec ahead of Sebastien Ogier. A great battle for 2nd place played out on Sunday, with Solberg trailing Ogier with 0.6sec going into the last super special stage. Solberg sat a fastest stage time here by 1.4 sec which secured the 2nd place podium finish, marking the best result by PSWRT to date. In the third Round of the season, Rally Jordan, Solberg trailed Latvala (−16s), Ogier (−19s) and Loeb (−43s) going into the last day. Ogier was sacrificed in a new level of tactics, sending him out as first car as road sweeper for Loeb, while receiving penalties and losing his good position. The exploiting of the rules received much criticism, and was subsequently banned for the next rally. The other drivers kept their position with Solberg scoring a 3rd place podium. In Rally Turkey, 16–18 April, Solberg held a good position through the whole rally, and had a serious chance to battle for the victory on the last day, positioned 2nd on the road, 16sec after Loeb. With several stages canceled on safety reasons due to too much mud, and later a scary meet with a tree on the slippery conditions, Solberg wisely stopped fighting and conceded to secure the 2nd place. Hirvonen, Latvala, Sordo and Ogier all had incidents/offs, hindering them to challenge Solbergs position. This result put Solberg second in the Driver's Championship standings, 1 point ahead of Hirvonen and 6 points ahead of Latvala, but a full 40 points after Loeb, with 4 out of 13 rallies completed. In Rally New Zealand Solberg made a tactical blunder, simply by not adapting any road position tactics, and finished in first position on day 1, with a marginal lead. Sweeping Saturday's stages left him 54 sec behind, in 5th place, realistically out of reach of a win. But for the final 30 km stage of the rally, four drivers were within 18 seconds of the lead, which led to an epic four-way battle for the victory, between Ogier, Latvala, Solberg and Loeb. Three of them took a maximum-attack, high-risk approach, which none of them managed to complete without incident. Ogier and Loeb both had a spin that cost them some seconds, and Solberg going too fast around a high speed bend hit a telegraph pole on the road shoulder and retired from 3rd position. Latvala did no serious mistakes and took his 3rd WRC win by 2.4 seconds. Loeb crashed two times during this rally, but still managed to finish only 15 seconds behind. On 11 June 2010, PSWRT announced that Phil Mills have decided to leave the codriver seat to focus on other things in life. This brings to an end a 152-event unbroken run of the pair competing together, over 11 years since 1999. In their time they have driven for Ford, Subaru and for their own Citroën team, winning 13 individual world rallies and the 2003 world title. 29 June PSWRT announced that Chris Patterson would be Solberg's new codriver.
In their first rally together, the tarmac event Rally Bulgaria, Solberg and Patterson put in an impressive performance; five stage wins and finished third, 6.8 seconds off Dani Sordo in second place.
After more podiums in Japan, France and Spain, Solberg finished second on Rally GB, securing his goal of finishing in the top three in the championship.
On 14 January 2011, PSWRT confirmed that Solberg will compete in the 2011 World Rally Championship in a Citroën DS3 WRC.
In February, Solberg had his driving licence suspended in Sweden after police caught him travelling 32kph above the speed limit on the way to the fifth stage of the country's WRC round, forcing co-driver Chris Patterson to take up the wheel.
In December 2011, Ford confirmed that Solberg will return to the factory team of Ford in 2012. Round 1 in Monte-Carlo saw Solberg's first podium finishing in third. Sweden saw the Norwegian come 4th. Mexico brought Solberg another podium in third. A round later in Portugal he finished fourth before Mikko Hirvonnen was stripped of his victory because the car violated some regulations. After that he was promoted to third place giving him yet another podium, and higher location in the overall standings in second, 4 points behind leader, Loeb. On December 4, 2012 Solberg confirmed he would sit out of the WRC 2013 season.
In 2013 Solberg entered a new FIA competition with his own at Torsby in Sweden established team to compete in all nine rounds of the FIA European Rallycross Championship (ERX), to eventually finishing 8th overall of the Supercars category.
In 2014 he became the first FIA World Rallycross Champion (WRX) with his PSRX Citroën DS3 Supercar. Therefore, he is also the first driver ever to claim FIA World titles in two different motorsports.
Solberg partenered with Liam Doran to compete for the Solberg Doran Rallycross (SDRX) team in the 2015 season. He successfully defended his WRX title with this Citroën DS3, clinching the title in the final round of the championship at Rosario in Argentina.
In 2016, Solberg continued in the FIA World Rallycross Championship with a privateer Supercars class Citroën DS3. He won the first round at Portugal, and got three further podiums and a total eight top 5 finishes, therefore he finished fourth in the overall standings.
Solberg was born in Askim, but grew up in Spydeberg. He is the younger brother to Henning Solberg. He is married to a Swede, Pernilla Walfridsson, with whom he has a son, Oliver, who himself is a successful Crosskart driver already. Pernilla is the daughter of former Volvo factory driver and 1980 European Rallycross Champion, Per-Inge "Pi" Walfridsson (who also claimed a remarkable fourth overall in the 1973 RAC Rally). Pernilla was also, for some time, one of the world's leading female rally drivers. Solberg lives with his family in Mitandersfors, Sweden.
* Season still in progress.