Going from three-time European Rallycross Champion to a relative unknown in America is just another challenge for Sverre Isachsen, in a career marked by successfully overcoming many obstacles.
After starting with Subaru as a guest driver, Sverre (rhymes with bear) Isachsen signed on full-time with Subaru Rally Team USA (SRT USA) in 2012, and recently renewed his contract to compete in the Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship (GRC) and Summer X Games along with his teammate, Bucky Lasek. His aggressive racing style and relentless drive to win have earned him the nickname, “The Viking Warrior.” It almost seems that he was born to race.
Born with a Gearshift in His Hand Isachsen started early, driving an old VW®Beetle on the farm in Drammen, Norway, when he was only 5 years old. “I built my first race car when I was 11 years old,” he recalls. “I loved everything that ran on fuel – gasoline, diesel, whatever.”
Sverre was soon piloting cars around his village well before driving age.
I drove many times without my driver’s license, but the local police knew me and they would tell my mom, ‘you need to talk to your son.
Kids, Don’t Try This at Home
One episode, in particular, stands out. He was 13 years old and working on a race car after school. Once he had the engine back together, he needed to make sure it ran well at speed. He reasoned that driving on the nearby highway was a bad idea; so instead, he ran it up and down an adjacent bicycle path. “I drove like this was my test track,” he says with a smile. “Then the police came – not the local police, but the highway patrol – and I got pulled over. Two policemen got out of the car. I could see that one was very angry. But the other one was laughing so hard, he had to go back and sit down!”
Ultimately, his father had to come and get him, and he was given a strong warning. “It was an experience … not a good experience, but an experience,” he says.
While continuing to build race cars for drivers in eastern Norway, he got his driver’s license at age 18 and then his racing license very soon afterward. His first race was a mixed success. “I didn’t finish that race – I broke a driveshaft on the last lap. But I had worked on all three podium cars – 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, I had built them.”
A 10-Year Hiatus
After a stint in the Norwegian military, Sverre built up several businesses over the course of 10 years. Soon, the constant attention to his enterprises took its toll. “I was working on one thing or another 24/7. A lot of people told me to take it easy. I said, ‘That’s not me.’ My health went way down and I was sick for 14 months.”
His health declined to the extent that doctors gave him a dire warning – he had to take it easy or else. “So after that,” Sverre says, “I went back to racing." Wait a minute – racing was taking it easy? “I was back doing what I loved,” Sverre explains.
Within a very short time, Sverre was at the top of his form. By 1999, he was the Norwegian Rally Champion. He repeated that success in 2000 and 2001. Always looking for the next big challenge, however, he began competing in Europe.
After a few years of hard knocks, Sverre was again on top. Slowly but surely, Sverre Isachsen honed his strategies and his skills. It eventually paid off. He was European Rallycross Champion in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Then he set his sights on America.
Coming to America
“It was a big change for me,” Sverre says, his customary smile fading as he grows serious. “In Europe, I was used to being at the top level. Everybody knew who I was. I came here and nobody knew my name or what I could do.” He pauses. “But then I told them I was three-time European champion, and they understood. I’m really happy to be racing for Subaru.”
Sverre has worked closely with Subaru technical partner Vermont SportsCar. “We made progress fast, and a lot of things came together. A small but passionate team can make things happen.”
Turning Potential Energy into Momentum
Last year was pivotal for the Subaru rallycross team, and with the new 2015 WRX STI race car, Sverre Isachsen and Bucky Lasek should have an even more competitive year. “The last half of the 2014 season, it all came together," Sverre says. “We had proof for Subaru and Subaru fans that we can win. "
A lot of elements go into winning in rallycross. One thing that’s there in abundance is passion for the sport. “Racing is really close to my heart,” Sverre says. “For me, for the rest of my life, I want to race. I want to be there and I want to have fun.”
(Never) Relaxing At Home
With motorsports such a big part of Sverre Isachsen’s life, it’s hard to imagine what he does in the off-season. “I love to work,” he explains. “When I’m home, I work with digging machines, or I build something.”
Family life with his wife and two children is also important, but his wife evidently knows her husband well. “If I’m home too long, my wife says, ‘You need to go out and do something.’ I guess I cannot sit still.” Being married to an international rallycross driver cannot be an easy job, but, as Sverre explains, “If I didn’t have my wife to take care of everything back home, it would be hopeless. She has supported me 100 percent from the start. She’s always behind me.”
And what of his two children? Does he see them getting involved in motorsports just as he did? “I think so.” He pauses for a moment. “I don’t push them, but of course the dad is the dad.” Who knows – maybe in a few years we’ll be seeing the next generation of Viking Warriors!