Solberg holds third for Ford as podium battle intensifies
Ford World Rally Team’s Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson have retained third position on the Rally Monte-Carlo leaderboard and are set to continue an enthralling cat-and-mouse duel for second place. Solberg, contesting his first WRC event with the Ford Fiesta RS WRC, fended off an attack from Dani Sordo until the day’s closing stage where the Spaniard edged ahead by a slender margin of 3.7 seconds.
Sixty-four out of the original 85 starting crews returned for the second competitive day of the legendary Rallye Monte-Carlo, the opening round of the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship. Primarily based in the town of Valence 65 miles south of Lyon before moving to the glamorous Principality of Monaco on Friday, competitors tackled a repeat loop of three identical stages covering 131.76km including two passes over the famous St Bonnet test. Renowned as an event with ever-changing road and climatic conditions, the weather proved relatively kind as temperatures remained mild and dry for the majority of the day.
The morning loop posed no major problems for Solberg who opted for four soft Michelin tyres and set two second fastest stage times. The flamboyant Norwegian pulled into midday service second overall, 3.7 seconds ahead of a defiant Sordo.
“Everything worked well this morning,” said Solberg. “It was a little bit tricky driving on harder tyres compared to some of the other guys who were on the super softs. I was setting the same pace as Seb [Loeb] until the bridge on Stage 7 but then he edged ahead because he had the better choice of tyres for the conditions.”
Solberg measured his pace during the afternoon pass, eager to apply pressure on Sordo to hold second place but also aware of the importance of learning how to manipulate differing road conditions in a car he is largely unfamiliar with.
“I’m really enjoying driving the Fiesta [RS WRC]. The conditions have been very difficult and I’m sure we could go quite a lot faster, but I still need to learn the car,” explained Solberg. “I’m much faster than I expected to be. I never thought that after only two days testing I’d be able to jump into the car and fight with Dani [Sordo] and be so close to Seb [Loeb].”
The day’s closing stage proved difficult for Solberg, who lost time finding the right rhythm to contend with the amount of mud that had been dragged onto the 21.66km test.
“On the last stage there was so much mud on the road and I don’t have any experience of driving this car in these types of conditions yet,” he said. “It took me a little bit of time to get into the rhythm and the last part of that stage was unbelievably slippery so I had to back off more than I wanted to.”
“The battle for second place is still very much on”, Solberg continued. “Third on the road is not a bad place to be starting tomorrow and I’m learning all the time in the car. If there’s snow tomorrow that’ll make things extremely interesting, and it will all come down to tyres and how we manage them.”
Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson spoke positively about Ford’s newest recruit: “I think it’s been a good, solid day from Petter. His pace has been really good, especially considering the small amount of time he’s had in the car and the conditions. He’s kept it on the road so far and it’s so important that we get to the finish to score good points for the manufacturers’ championship. It was a very sensible drive and he’s still in a strong position to battle for second place.
“The last stage was really tricky because there was a lot of mud so Petter had to be careful. If the weather turns worse it will be important that he’s running behind Dani [Sordo] tomorrow so that he can judge the correct pace. If it does snow there could be some big differences in times. The rally remains wide open,” concludes Wilson.
Other news from Ford teams
M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet and François Delecour / Dominique Savignoni finished today’s leg fifth and sixth respectively after a polished performance in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Cars. Team-mates Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk pulled into the end-of-day service eighth overall despite stalling his engine on the day's closing stage. Martin Prokop / Zdenek Hrůza who were piloting a privately-entered Fiesta RS WRC finished the day 12th overall. Go Fast Energy World Rally Team’s Matthew Wilson / Scott Wilson lie 13th, just ahead of team-mates Henning Solberg / Ilka Minor in 14th in another Fiesta RS WRC.
Tomorrow’s Rally Route
Friday’s leg consists of three competitive stages covering 77.30km, with some snow expected on the closing 29.89km test. The day’s opening two stages are set close to the rally base of Valence, but the WRC circus will then jump ship as the teams set off on a long voyage to the Principality of Monaco ready for the final two days of competition. The day’s closing stage will be set close to Monte-Carlo before the crews travel to the Riviera resort renowned for its glitz and glamour for the overnight halt.