In Petter Solberg's latest exclusive column on Crash.net, the Ford World Rally Team man looks back on Rally New Zealand, where he took his fourth podium finish of the season...
So, we've passed the halfway point in the season and it was great to get another podium in New Zealand.
After what had happened on the Acropolis, it was good to make up for some of the points we missed out on there and it was an important result for the team, especially given what happened to Jari-Matti [Latvala – my team-mate] on Friday afternoon, when he lost four-and-a-half minutes.
His accident showed how easy it was to get it wrong, and after I had lost out in Greece, making sure I got to the end in New Zealand was always uppermost in my mind. Although I pushed hard, I didn't want to go crazy and push over-the-top like I had done in Greece, when I pushed just half a per cent too far and it bit me. It was more important to finish third than to crash whilst chasing first or second.
However, my feelings are still mixed as I really think we could have won and should have been top at the end of the three days.
Again, we did well in the qualifying stage on the Thursday, but the wrong tyre choice on Friday morning really cost us.
I cannot tell you how disappointed I and the whole team were on Friday when we got the tyre choice wrong, and after that, although we kept our spirits up and kept fighting, it was always going to be extremely difficult to come back. We closed the gap to Mikko [Hirvonen] a bit by the end and came away with another podium, but you know, I'm a bit tired of podiums now – I want to win!
The decision to go with the harder tyres on Friday morning was one we took together as a team. We didn't think the soft compound tyres would last the whole loop of stages, taking into consideration the roads, the distance and the weather.
Unfortunately, the roads turned out to be wetter than we had anticipated. Jari-Matti went on the soft tyres because he was starting each stage 20 minutes after me, and we knew the roads would be quite a bit cleaner by the time he went through. So based on the facts, we went with the hard compound. It was wrong, but sometimes these things happen...
That's why it was pleasing in a way to come back and still get a top-three because we gave away almost 90 seconds and were down in seventh after SS4.
Unfortunately though, I couldn't do anything about the Citroëns of Sébastien [Loeb] and Mikko [Hirvonen]. They were very fast, and I wasn't willing to push any harder because I needed to finish. I was actually the quickest driver in the rally on Saturday, and if you look at the stage times and the gaps between the top three at the end, we were all driving at a very similar speed – so without what happened on Friday morning, trust me, it would have been one hell of a fight!
Still it was a brilliant event, as always. I just love everything about New Zealand. The stages are absolutely amazing – especially Whaanga Coast – and the atmosphere, food and the enthusiasm of the spectators are all great. This is by far one of my favourite rallies.
The weather, of course, made things tough this year; it was almost impossible to keep up, and it shifted from very cold to quite warm within minutes. Still, that adds to the challenge and is all part and parcel of the WRC.
The championship now has its customary break and I am looking forward to spending some quality time with my family. My son Oliver has some cross-kart races, there will probably be some fishing and definitely some training to keep myself in shape, and we might take a trip or two with our camper. Mainly I just want to relax and enjoy the break so I can come back for the second half of the season feeling relaxed and refreshed – and ready to win!
There will be some testing ahead of Finland and Germany. We have an asphalt test scheduled for early July and then the pre-Finland test towards the end of the month, at which we will focus on finding the best set-up for the car for what is always one of the toughest and most enjoyable events of the year. I'll certainly be going for some good results in the second half of the season.
We've had four podiums so far and I have been happy both with my form and that of the Fiesta RS WRC. I think I'm driving as well as I ever have, and as I've said on many occasions, the Fiesta RS WRC is just a fantastic piece of kit! But I know we can win and I'm a bit disappointed we haven't done that yet. At almost every rally we have proved we have the speed to win, but there is still time...
Anything can happen in the second half of the year, and I promise you that neither Jari-Matti nor myself have given up. We will fight until it is no longer possible, and if that does become the case, we will fight to win every remaining rally. We saw last year that Loeb had two or three bad rallies towards the end of the season, so however the situation looks right now, you should never say never.
We are both really looking forward to the next round in Finland. It is a classic event and the stages are amazing, so fast and flowing. There are also loads of spectators, who create an awesome atmosphere – and it feels a little bit like home!
It is going to be important to do well there – as it always is at every event – and I am convinced we can turn it around and win in Jyväskylä. I've finished on the podium in Finland twice before – third in 2002 and second in 2003 – so hopefully 2012 will be third time lucky! I can't wait...
Until next time, Petter Solberg
To keep tabs on the Ford World Rally Team's progress, simply follow this link: www.wrcford.com