In Petter Solberg's latest exclusive column on Crash.net, the Ford World Rally Team man looks back on Spain and an event that just didn't go to plan...
I went to Spain really hoping to get a win and end the season on a high. I was so fired-up to achieve a good result for Ford, for Malcolm [Wilson] and for all the guys in the team in Ford's final rally, and for that to all go wrong so early on in just the second stage was so incredibly disappointing. It was very hard to take.
That's just the way it's gone this season, though, I guess – starting off well and then going downhill. It's not been our year, but now we need to refocus and look to the future, whatever that may bring...
Going back to the rally, basically, SS2 (Pesells 1) was going well and Chris [Patterson – my co-driver] and I were setting some encouraging split times whilst driving well within our limits. The conditions were really bad with all the rain and the mud, but we were third-quickest and on course to move up the leaderboard until we came around a fourth-gear left-hand corner about 20km in and found ourselves dragged into a big rut that was full of water. An exposed rock was hidden in the rut, and that was enough to damage the suspension, sadly.
Four cars actually hit the same rock, and if it hadn't been for Chris warning the following drivers to slow down, there would have been a lot more, too...
It was a pretty turbulent opening day all-in-all for a lot of drivers, with 11 of the top 20 starters going out.
Right up until the day itself, the forecast was for dry weather on Friday – and as you saw, it was anything but. The conditions were really treacherous. I don't think I've ever seen so many cars have problems in a single day before. It reminded me of Portugal earlier this year – not easy to drive at all.
Of course, we could re-join on Saturday under the Rally 2 rules and we did climb back from 41st to 11th, but to be honest, it wasn't so much fun. When you have a 25-minute time penalty and have lost all hope of fighting for the podium or even a strong points finish, it's a real struggle to find the motivation to continue pushing – and I was also very conscious of not wanting to damage the car again and of getting safely to the finish for Malcolm. It was good to regain 30 positions, but really, after Friday, we were just driving around for the fans. We have had to do that a few times this season – more often than I would have liked in the second half – and it is never easy.
The Fiesta RS WRC, though, was very good. I've no complaints there and it is always a pleasure to drive. It felt brilliant all the way through. I just wish I could have made more of it.
All-in-all, a weekend to forget for me and not the way I wanted to help Ford conclude its official WRC participation.
As for the event itself, well, Spain is always an enjoyable rally – ok, perhaps less so for us personally this year, but I think it marked a fitting end to the season nonetheless. The fact that it is the only mixed-surface event in the WRC does add an extra challenge in terms of needing to adapt not only the whole set-up of the car but also your driving style from one day to the next. The only thing I'm not a fan of, however, is mixed-surface stages like we had on the first day in Spain on Terra Alta. Stages should take place on either asphalt or gravel – not both. At least that's my view.
It was a strange week, to tell the truth. The atmosphere of the rally in general with so many fans there was amazing, but it was also sad at the same time with it being the last event for Ford, Stage 1 Technology and Sébastien Loeb's full-time WRC career. It was a weekend of highs and lows, but above all, it was a weekend of fond farewells.
Certainly there was a lot of emotion in the Ford service area. It was a very poignant weekend – for everybody in the team. Some of these guys have been with Ford and M-Sport since the relationship began back in 1997, but even for those who have not been there so long, there is such a welcoming and family atmosphere inside the team that by the end of the weekend, I don't think there was a single person who hadn't shed a tear, myself included.
Looking back on 2012 overall, I'd have to say it's been disappointing, very disappointing. We went into the year with such high hopes. For me, it was fantastic to be back at Ford again after effectively beginning my WRC career there more than a decade earlier, but although we started off strongly and had a good first half of the season, over the second half, nothing seemed to go right. I don't know, perhaps I was just trying too hard to win.
I think in terms of the pace of the Fiesta RS WRC and Citroën DS3 WRC, there was very little to choose between them. The truth is that as a team, we could have won many more rallies than we did, but we made too many mistakes – and when you are competing against a driver as strong and consistent as Loeb, you cannot afford to make mistakes.
The worst event was Portugal. We were handed that rally on a plate, and we threw it away. Yes, the fight back to finish third in the end was satisfying, but it could have been so much more... Greece was also a strong result that went begging through a mistake, but you can't look back, besides there were some highs too. Monte-Carlo was really good, for instance, finishing on the podium in my first rally back with Ford – that was something quite special. The fight with Loeb in GB was also a lot of fun – it was just a pity he so narrowly beat me in the end!
It has been a fantastic experience working with Ford and M-Sport again. On a human level, this is the best team in the service park, and we have had a lot of good times together. It is just such a shame we have not achieved the results we could and should have done.
A lot of people keep asking me about 2013 now, and the truth is that at the moment, I don't know what is going to happen and what I am going to do. We are talking to a lot of people and I obviously want to stay in the WRC next year, but there is no news yet.
Finally, I just want to say a massive 'thank you' to everybody out there who has supported me this year and throughout my career, to Ford for being such a key part of the WRC's history, to M-Sport for all the hard work that has been put in and to my sponsors, in particular Teng Tools who have been there every step of the way.
Never give up!Petter Solberg
To keep tabs on the Ford World Rally Team's progress, simply follow this link: www.wrcford.com