In Mads Ostberg's second exclusive column on Crash.net for 2013, the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team man looks back on Rally Mexico, where he was the only one that could really challenge current championship leader, Sebastien Ogier...
What can I say about last weekend's Rally Mexico? Obviously it didn't end the way any of us wanted at the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team, but there was still lots to be positive about and our speed on the first day in our Ford Fiesta RS WRC car was very good. That is definitely something that will help boost our confidence for the next event. We took four stage wins on the Friday and I felt we were really able to take the fight to eventual winner, Sebastien [Ogier] - and that is very encouraging.
The event itself got underway on the Thursday and after qualifying and the two short special specials that night it all felt good. I felt comfortable in the car, and I was very much looking forward to the 'proper' stages the next day.
The start in Guanajuato is always a fantastic show and the atmosphere with the thousands of spectators makes it all very special. More events should look into having starts like this.
On Friday morning, I was generally very pleased. The set-up didn't really work on the first stage of the day, El Cubilete 1 [SS3], but it was perfect for the next one, which had a lot more twisty and intricate sections. It all looked very good and it was great to take the lead and keep it in SS5.
El Chocolate – ran as SS6 and SS11 – was not so easy though, and I lost ground there. I just struggled a bit to get into the right rhythm on that test, although we were still pretty fast - and posted the fourth best time on the first run through and the third best on the repeat. It was just that Ogier was extremely fast in it!
So, by the end of Friday, we were 33 seconds back and while I realised it would be difficult to make up that time, I knew we would be able to push a bit more on the Saturday and certainly be right on Seb's heel and ready to pounce if we forced him into a mistake – like he made in Mexico in 2011 – or if he had a problem with the car.
Sadly, it was us that had the car issues on Saturday morning. It was just unbelievably bad luck and I couldn't believe it.
The initial clutch problem in SS14 – the first test of the second leg - was frustrating, and we would have lost a bit of time on hairpin corners, but it wouldn't have ended the rally for us. But then on the road section to SS15, the second test of the day, we had a warning on the dash and my heart immediately sank. It was an electrical problem and although Jonas [Andersson – my co-driver] and I tried our hardest to fix it – in constant contact with our engineer Nige – there was nothing we could do.
I was so frustrated that I kicked the car, and really hurt my foot. It shows how strong the Fiesta RS WRC is, as my foot definitely lost that one!
At the moment it looks as though it was a problem with a part – not my fault and not the team's fault. It was just cruel bad luck and a real shame for everyone that it happened to us when we were doing so well, although the boys will have a proper investigation when they get the bits back to M-Sport's base in Cumbria.
We re-started on the Sunday under the Rally 2 regulations and it was nice to take second in the Power Stage, especially as with my starting position that really shouldn't have been possible. I guess that makes me the fastest road sweeper in Mexico! There is still a long way to go in the championship – Mexico was only round three of 13 remember - and they have been won and lost on a single point before, so those two bonus points from being second in the Power Stage could prove very significant as the season draws to a close.
In terms of the event itself, I have always enjoyed Rally Mexico and did again this year – despite what happened on the Saturday. The stages are amazing and I love competing on them. The atmosphere is incredible too, with thousands of spectators out watching the stages and present back in the service park in Leon. Now though, it is on to Portugal and after the misfortune last weekend, I am certainly looking forward to it.
Portugal is another gravel event and it is just really good all round. The stages are good, there are lots of fans, the location is good - I just really like it. I also know from Mexico that we have the speed to take the fight to Ogier and can't wait to get back out again. Indeed I think the Fiesta RS WRC is looking very good in comparison to the Polo R WRC and the DS3 WRC and it is not just me that has shown that. My team-mates highlighted that in Mexico too - with Thierry [Neuville] challenging Mikko [Hirvonen] for second on only his second time on the event, while Nasser [Al-Attiyah] was almost half a minute faster than the times he set on some of the stages last year! Evgeny [Novikov] was also quick, but he too had problems.
We will have a test before Portugal now and that should allow us to make further progress and give us a chance to work on the set-up and get a good feeling for the conditions before the event. I believe that we have a good chance of winning there and that's what we'll be pushing for.
Ogier may have started strong, but I do think we can beat him. Also if you look at the points in the drivers' championship, it is important that someone gets up there and beats him soon – and preferably it will be me!
That's all for now...Mads Ostberg
To keep tabs on the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team's progress in 2013, simply follow this link: www.qatarmsportwrt.com