World Rally Championship: Chris Patterson enjoys podium finish
Chris Patterson is not the sort of person who is normally to be seen strutting his stuff on stage during a fashion show.
But he has found himself in a whole new world now as co-driver to Norwegian rally star Petter Solberg.
Former World champion Solberg is a flamboyant, exuberant character who has always brought an element of show business to his rallying. Staging a fashion show on the eve of Rally Finland, featuring members of his team wearing the latest Petter Solberg clothing range, was typical of a driver they call “Hollywood”.
It wasn’t exactly what Patterson signed up for when he was chosen to join the TOOLS Citroen team two months ago to replace Phil Mills, Solberg’s co-driver for the previous 13 years.
“I’ve seen and done most things in rallying over the past 20 years but modelling at a fashion show! That wouldn’t be my scene,” says Patterson from Ballyclare.
“But they bribed me with a Shell Card for free petrol.
“I couldn’t turn that down. And do you know, it was great fun. It turned out to be a good team-bonding experience.”
And Patterson, a former World production champion, has fitted right into the Solberg team, so much so that they finished third on their debut together in Bulgaria where Chris became the first Ulsterman to climb onto a World Rally Championship podium since Fred Gallagher more than a decade ago.
It was a feat which earned his the “Abu Dhabi Spirit of the Rally” Award.
They followed up with fourth place in Finland where they led through the first leg only to be edged off the podium by the winning Ford of Jari-Matti Latvala and the factory Citroens of Sebastien Ogier and World champion Sebastien Loeb.
“It has worked really well, we seem to have gelled from the start,” says Patterson, currently in Germany preparing for this weekend’s Rally Deutschland.
“Petter is different to many of the drivers I’ve been with in the past but you quickly learn to adapt and work with them — how they make their pacenotes, how they want them read back and how to fit into their routine.
“Petter is an excitable character but he is a total professional and an exceptional driver.
“His preparation is meticulous and he expects everyone around him to work as hard as he does.”
Since he made his debut back in 1993, Patterson has contested close to 100 WRC rounds and partnered a wide variety of drivers from Greek John Papadimitríou to Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah, Alister McRae to Gwyndaf Evans, Niall McShea to Kris Meeke.
He was also the preferred testing partner for former World champion Colin McRae.
And although he won the PWRC title in 2006 with Al-Attiyah as well as the Middle East championship (three times), joining Solberg was a significant step up to the highest echelons of the World championship.
It has been claimed that the Norwegian had a choice of over 40 co-drivers when Mills unexpectedly stood down.
He chose Patterson who was visiting the parents of his Belgian fiancée Christel — and watching his pal Meeke on the Ypres Rally — when he got the call.
“It didn’t come completely out of the blue but it was still a bit of a surprise to be asked,” he says. “We did a test together in France and seemed to click.
“Afterwards he offered the job to me and we’re starting to build a solid partnership.
“Being with Petter is definitely a whole new world, a bit bizarre at times, but I’m enjoying it.”