Solberg heads Ford bid as Monte-Carlo proves bitter sweet
Ford World Rally Team’s newest recruits, Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson, finished the opening leg of Rallye Monte-Carlo in a competitive podium position following an impressive drive on arduous road conditions. Solberg, who completed only two days testing the Ford Fiesta RS WRC prior to the season’s curtain-raiser, proved his abilities as a world class rally driver by setting a string of top three stage times.
Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila were forced to retire after the Finnish pair rolled their Ford Fiesta RS WRC 10km into the day’s closing 30.48km Burzet – St Martial test. Latvala’s retirement proved bitter sweet as the Finn was leading the rally until a driver error proved costly. With no option to re-enter under SupeRally regulations during this event, the 26-year-old will not return to the rally.
Eighty-five crews journeyed west of the rally base in Valence to the Ardèche region today where they tackled a repeat loop of two stages totalling 134.70km. On an event where tyre choice can prove critical, Latvala demonstrated the team’s decision to opt for a mix of front-left and rear-right studded Michelin tyres was ideal for the second 30.48km stage. He finished the test a remarkable 52.7sec ahead of Sébastien Loeb despite both drivers competing on the same tyres. At the end of the morning loop, Latvala was leading the rally by 30.5sec and Solberg was third.
Discussing tyre choice, Latvala remarked that the decision to choose a mix of studs and slicks was made as a team. “I’d seen some drivers going with crossed-over studs in the past and we thought it was worth a try so we fitted front-left and rear-right wheel studs. I was a bit worried after the first stage as it seemed like we were on course to lose a lot of time but the conditions were really wintry on the second stage and suddenly we were a lot quicker and I was able to take some risks,” he explained.
Solberg was happy with his competitive return to the Ford camp. “It was a very good first day. I can't ask for much more than a podium spot and now we have to finish the rally and get as many points as possible,” said the Norwegian.
"We didn't make a perfect tyre choice for the final stage because there wasn't enough snow but we are still in a podium spot and only one second behind Dani [Sordo] so I’m very happy. The car was absolutely fantastic and I’m really pleased with our pace. I actually really surprised myself! It is just up to me to get some more kilometres under my belt. It is fantastic to be back with the Ford team and so close to Seb [Loeb’s] times.”
Speaking of his retirement, Latvala concluded that it was human error that caused his early retirement.
“Ten kilometres into the stage the road changed from dry to an icy section. Then on a fast right-hand corner which tightened 90 degrees, I started to concentrate only on the ice and not on the notes. I was carrying too much speed at that point and I tried to get the car back on the road but it kept sliding wide,” explained the disappointed driver.
“I really wanted to fight for the victory and that’s where I made the mistake,” continued Latvala. “I thought I would be able to gain time on the icy section because that’s where I had been so quick in the morning. I was pushing too hard and it’s so easy to make a mistake in those conditions. Everything was in place to do well, and that is what is killing me inside. Now we need to think about the championship. There are 12 rallies in which we can still fight for victory - we need to come back strong in Sweden,” concluded an optimistic Latvala.
Despite Latvala’s disappointment, Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson was feeling upbeat and visibly impressed with Solberg’s competitive debut in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
“Petter had a very strong first day and he set some really good times considering how little mileage he has done in the car. On the second and third stages he was particularly impressive. He is in a podium position now and the way the conditions are, it can still be anybody's rally,” said Wilson.
“I spoke to Jari-Matti just before the final stage. He seemed very much in control and relaxed about the situation but he made a rare mistake for which he completely blames himself. It's very disappointing there's no SupeRally as that deprives him of the chance to get some points for the Manufacturers' championship,” Wilson concluded.
Other news from Ford teams
M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet lie fifth after a trouble-free day in their Ford Fiesta RS WRC. Team-mates François Delecour / Dominique Savignoni are seventh in a similar car. Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk lie ninth in the team’s other Fiesta RS WRC. New-for-2012 Go Fast Energy World Rally Team’s Matthew Wilson / Scott Wilson are 13th after the British duo adopted a cautious driving approach. Henning Solberg / Ilka Minor lie 15th despite suffering from two broken rear drive shafts on the opening loop followed by brake problems in the afternoon. Julien Maurin / Olivier Ural were forced to retire after crashing their Ford Fiesta RS WRC on the day’s closing stage.
Tomorrow’s stages are once again set west of the rally base in Valence in the Ardèche mountains where the weather is expected to be unpredictable. The crews will tackle a repeat loop of two stages covering 131.76 kilometres of competitive distance before they return to the service park for the overnight halt.