The World Rallycross star reveals how he returned to the track less than two weeks after having surgery on a broken collar bone following a heavy crash in this interview from the latest issue of AUTO+ Medical, the FIA’s journal of motor sport medicine.
During the Latvia round of the 2017 World Rallycross Championship, reigning champion Petter Solberg suffered a heavy crash with fellow competitor Janis Baumanis at the Bikernieki track’s second corner. The collision saw Baumanis hit the left-rear of the Swedish driver’s Volkswagen Polo GTI RX, sending him into a spin and out of the race.
Solberg suffered a broken collarbone, two fractured ribs and a bruised lung in the incident. The 43-year-old underwent surgery to repair the collarbone and remarkably returned to the wheel of his WRX car at the next round of the season at the Estering, Germany, just two weeks later, enabling him to pick up enough points to finish third in the final championship standings.
AUTO+ Medical: What happened during your crash in the 2017 Latvia RX round?
Petter Solberg: Coming into the first corner Loeb touched me a little bit on the back end and I got sideways on the way into the next corner, and the other driver [Baumanis] touched me in the back corner and smashed me around. It just happened so quickly – it felt like I was on a roulette wheel. And then I just felt a massive amount of pain; that feeling straight away was quite special.
A+M: Did you know immediately that you were hurt?
PS: Yes for sure. I was screaming like hell, and then I understood that it was something with the shoulder, with the collarbone and also down to my back, and that was obviously the two ribs. The collarbone was 4cm over each other on the picture [x-ray]. The pain to get out of the car was tremendous – it’s hard to explain. As soon as they touched me to lift me out of the car or remove my helmet the pain went straight into the collarbone. It was almost at the point where they had to cut the roof for me to get out and I was thinking: ‘bloody hell, they can’t do that’, and then I just came out, I couldn’t stand on my feet properly because of the pain. I think it’s the worst ever accident I have had in all my career.
A+M: What treatment did you receive immediately after the accident?
PS: Well, first of all the Latvian hospital was not very good. The guy who helped me the most was the FIA doctor Jean Duby, but he couldn’t come into the hospital to speak English, and they [hospital staff] didn’t know exactly what happened to me so they were just throwing me from bench to bench.
So I took a private plane back home straight to the hospital in Sweden and I had three doctors around me. Two had said ‘no, you can’t drive, it’s impossible with your ribs, lung and collarbone’, but another said ‘well maybe it’s possible’. I brought that doctor with me [to Germany] because he was positive – his name is Dr Klas-Göran Gravander, and he has a lot of experience of working in speedway, where collarbone injuries are common. Then I had an operation one week after [the crash], putting in the plates and bolts and everything into the collarbone.
A+M: How did you manage your recovery process following the operation?
PS: I woke up on Tuesday morning [after the operation] and I had a motorhome outside the hospital to jump straight into and lie down and drive straight over to Germany, so I didn’t have to move around so much. At the end of the treatment I had a machine with me to use on the shoulders and the ribs to heal it faster. It was an infrared system to get the blood circulation going.
I got moulded a Kevlar piece for my shoulder and padding so I could put it on the seatbelt for the next race so nothing happened basically to damage the collarbone. But the treatment was just to take the motorhome [to Germany], relax and take the tablets that I was allowed to take because of the anti-doping regulations.
I didn’t take anything else other than paracetamol every eight hours, because I know when I came into Germany if I drive, I could be randomly dope tested, so we were very careful exactly with everything that I did both from the doctor’s side and my own side, so everything was correct to rules.
A+M: You made your return to the car at the World RX round at the Estering, Germany, just two weeks after the initial accident. How did you feel when you first got back in the car?
PS: Well, it was only pain. First of all I had to show the FIA guys that I could go in and out from the car to show that it was no problem before the race. So they came for the inspection, it was very professional in how they did it and I think it was the right thing to do.
I was a little bit scared to be hit in the back into the first corner, so I tried to avoid any fights or anything at all. I was really tired between every heat; I’d go straight to bed, sleep, relax, and then go out in the car again. I didn’t do any interviews or anything, I just tried to get through that race as quick as possible.
A+M: You broke another rib in your first heat in Germany, how did that happen?
PS: Yes, because one was cracked and then I broke it completely because I hit a gravel bank, so it was moving like hell. We taped the whole stomach, all around my back and everything to try and get the support, but it didn’t help with that, and then I just continued driving again. I still won that heat, and the whole thing ended up like a crazy story because I was the fastest qualifier after four heats.
Before the final I was so tired, so I did a lot of mistakes because of the pain and the tiredness, so even after being first into the first corner, I was pushed a little bit by [Mattias] Ekström and then I came out in fourth. But at the end of the day that gave me the [third place] medal for the championship.
A+M: What advice would you give to drivers suffering similar injuries in the future?
PS: I think the only thing is that you need good people around you who are perfectionists, and doctors who understand that you have to drive, and then to have the right people around you to believe in what you’re doing. So many people told me not to do it, but it’s all up to you and how much pain you can handle without doing anything with bad medicine to hide it. That 14 days are going into the memory book for myself. It’s more a test of how much do you want to do things, and you see that everything is possible if you want to.
A+M: What feedback do you have for the paramedics and doctors who treated you throughout the recovery process?
PS: I am so happy with them. Everything works perfectly. My arm is perfect from the collarbone, and my ribs are perfect. I still have something with the lung, but we’ve been treating it so I’m sure it’ll be ok.