Petter Solberg made an emotional return to Japan last week, visiting friends and his Subaru ‘family’ in Mitaka City as well as Central Rally Aichi in Nagakuta.

Petter won his 2003 FIA World Rally Championship with Subaru and was delighted to visit Subaru Tecnica International headquarters, where he was reunited with the last factory Subaru Impreza WRC he drove in 2008.

As Petter fired up that car for the first time in 11 years, more than 3000 fans turned out to watch him drive by one more time.

He said: “Subaru was family for me for a very long time and it was really emotional to see so many of that family and those friends again. There were more than 3000 people there at the factory – it was incredible to see so many of them and to have them remembering me so warmly.

“I feel the same way for my fans and friends in Japan. They are such special people.”

“It was such a big honour for me to meet [Subaru Tecnica International] president Mr [Yasuo] Hiraoka and to drive the car again. It felt like it was yesterday when I was competing with the team and we were winning together.”

Part of that winning team was Petter’s former Subaru team-mate Tommi Mäkinen. Petter was delighted to spend time with the Finn, remembering their two years together fondly.

“It was special, special time with Tommi in those years,” said Petter. “After I won in Wales [Rally GB] in 2002 and then the championship in 2003, we flew home together me and Tommi – we have always been big friends. He helped me so much in those years and to have time to talk about them again in Japan was fantastic.”

Petter had plenty of words of encouragement for Japan’s return to the World Rally Championship next season, adding: “It’s been too long that the WRC has been away from Japan, but you can see from being here [in Nagakuta] just what it means to know the rally is coming back in one year. I think it’s going to be one of the best supported rounds of the season!”