In Petter Solberg's latest exclusive column on Crash.net, the Ford World Rally Team man looks back on Wales Rally GB, where the 'Blue Oval' was back in business and 'Hollywood' was back on the rostrum...
What a great result for Ford World Rally Team in Wales! We had been chasing this victory for seven months now since Rally Sweden back in February, and for Jari-Matti [Latvala] and Miikka [Anttila – my team-mates] to win in the way they did in Wales was just fantastic – they were the fastest throughout the rally and thoroughly deserved their success. Obviously there is a little disappointment from mine and Chris [Patterson]'s side, missing out on second place by less than a second after more than 320 competitive kilometres, but we can't be too unhappy with first and third.
Indeed, the result has really given everybody inside the team a welcome morale boost. I'm not saying that the motivation was lacking beforehand – it certainly wasn't – but when you win, it just gives everybody that little extra lift and desire to push even harder, and I think you will see that when we go to the next rally in France.
We have had a tough season and the results haven't been what we have wanted or what the Ford Fiesta RS WRC has been capable of, but all the guys have worked so hard to try to turn things around and these moments mean a lot to everybody involved.
Wales Rally GB started a bit earlier this year than most events, with the qualifying stage on the Wednesday, as opposed to the Thursday, and we were quick right away, which was great. It was unfortunate that the timing of the rain prevented us from setting the fastest time, but that's just the way it goes sometimes.
We put that behind us, however, to go out and lead the first two stages of the rally on the Friday, but my lack of recent familiarity with Myherin (I didn't get the chance to drive that stage last year after retiring on the second full day) lost me some time. Jari-Matti, Sébastien Loeb and I were all so evenly-matched, so it was difficult to regain it. We fought hard, though, and had a hell of a battle with Loeb right to the very end.
I didn't think it could get much closer than it was on Saturday and then Sunday morning, but to be separated by only one tenth of a second going into the Power Stage on Sunday afternoon, that was something really incredible. It just shows you what a tough competitor he is and why you should never count him out, which I certainly didn't do. I wasn't nervous before Walters Arena 2 – more full of adrenaline – and I gave it everything I had, but Seb was just able to pip me in the end so bravo to him. You need to remember that he's had many years in his car, though, whereas I'm still learning about the Fiesta. We'll get him back next time...!
What we can say after the weekend, however, without a shadow of a doubt, is that we have definitely made a step forward regarding the performance of the Fiesta RS WRC on gravel since the last round on the loose stuff in Finland, where we were surprised by the opposition's pace. We worked hard to improve the balance of the suspension at the rear of the car, and you could see how much that paid off.
The speed of the car also meant Jari-Matti and I could drive quickly without having to take too many risks and all-in-all it was a pleasingly straightforward rally for me – which hasn't always been the case this year. The fact that Ford won 14 of the 19 stages in the end says it all.
As for the event itself, despite switching to a September date, to be honest, it didn't make too much difference. Some stages were still wet and muddy and foggy – so just like Wales in November!
The temperatures were a bit higher, that's for sure, but it wasn't massively dissimilar to a 'normal' Rally GB.
It would perhaps have been nice to have done some stages up near Llandudno again and around the Great Orme like last year, to make the long journey up there more worthwhile, but overall it was a good event, just a shame the entry was on the low side, no doubt a sign of these economically challenging times.
Now we have a three-week break before we head to Rallye de France-Alsace and I am looking forward to it, although I look forward to every rally and every single outing in the Fiesta RS WRC.
The event in Alsace is very different to the old Tour de Corse, but they both have their own unique challenges and characteristics.
We will be testing at the end of this month and the principal target will be to build upon the significant improvements we made to the Fiesta RS WRC for Rallye Deutschland and make the car as competitive as it can be on asphalt.
I finished third in Alsace in both 2010 and 2011, and although it is in Loeb's backyard and we all know how much he will want to win the title there, looking at our asphalt pace in Germany last month, I'm confident that both Jari-Matti and I can give him a run for his money.
I always enter every event aiming to win and while realistically, if we can finish on the podium I think we will be satisfied, if the chance is there to go for victory, you know I will always take it.
Until next time, Petter Solberg
To keep tabs on the Ford World Rally Team's progress, simply follow this link: www.wrcford.com