In Petter Solberg's second exclusive column on Crash.net, the Ford World Rally Team man looks back on Rally Sweden, where he looked set to get another podium, until he picked up a puncture right near the end...
As you will all know, I finished fourth in the end in Sweden in my Ford Fiesta RS WRC car and while that puncture in the final loop cost me a likely podium, the event was still very positive.
Of course, third would have been better, but the Power Stage points were also important and I picked up two bonus points for being second quickest on the repeat-run through Hagfors (SS24). Also the pace we had on the stages - I set 19 top-five times in total, including two stage wins - shows we are heading in the right direction, which is very, very encouraging at this early juncture.
The puncture in that last loop in Lesjöfors 2 (SS22) happened in a right hand bend on a blind crest. The rock was just there and as far as I know, it was not there before! I think it caught a few of the drivers by surprise, including my Ford team-mate, Jari-Matti [Latvala], who went on to win. I couldn't believe that something like that had happened to me again and I'd lost third. But the puncture aside, I had the pace and I am now getting to know the car better and better. I know I can win with the Fiesta RS WRC.
Before the event I had two days testing with it and even though the conditions were not the same during the rally itself, I feel more at one with it. The conditions were actually quite difficult in some of the stages, but nevertheless I cannot say anything other than we fit very well together...
I also firmly believe I could have held off Mads [Ostberg] and taken third, even if he did close up on me in the morning on the final day.
Apart from the puncture, it all went pretty well on Rally Sweden. I did have a spin on day one and lost a bit of time, but the conditions were tricky and I am still getting used to the car. We still have a way to go. I am also the first to admit that I make small mistakes – but only sometimes!
Rally Sweden was extra exciting for me this year as it was a cross border event and included a full day in Norway on the Friday, allowing me to perform on home turf. The Mitandersfors test (SS2) took this to another level and to run by our family house and hotel was a really special moment.
The other stages in Norway were also good. There were loads of spectators out on the stages and I am very proud of being a Norwegian in the middle of all of this. Also I have to mention there were ten cars driven by Norwegian drivers on the entry list, and that's great when you think just how many people are in Norway.
Sweden marked a first for the World Rally Championship with the use of a qualifying procedure to set the running order for the opening day. I think it is a good thing, and it also adds some excitement for both drivers and the spectators. I have to admit there was a lot to take into consideration before making the decision in terms of where to start, but it was fun thinking about it and it adds another element to it.
Now it is on to Mexico next month and I am really looking forward to going there. It will be my first event with the Fiesta RS WRC on gravel and I have always enjoyed the stages in León. It is going to be even more exciting this year for me too, with the new car - one that is so very, very good.
Rally Mexico has a great atmosphere and the amount of spectators, combined with the great stages, just makes it a fabulous event.
The start in Guanajuato is also something really special. It is only a 1.05 kilometre test, but the ambience is electric.
Before all that we will do a one-day test in Europe and that will be important for us to finalise the set-ups before the third round. I've done well in Mexico in the past, winning in 2005, as well as coming second in 2006 and 2010 and last year I was fourth. As always though, I'll be aiming for another podium this time round.
Until next time, Petter Solberg
To keep tabs on the Ford World Rally Team's progress, simply follow this link: www.wrcford.com