In Petter Solberg's first exclusive column on Crash.net for 2012, the Ford World Rally Team man looks back on Rallye Monte Carlo, where he began the year very encouragingly and ended up on the podium, despite having completed only two days testing with the Fiesta RS WRC before the event...
Well that's the first round of the season complete and it was a great result for me in Monte Carlo. Standing on the podium was the perfect start to my season and also to my new job with the Ford World Rally Team. Not only was it a good way to kick-start the 2012 season, it was also my best ever result on the event so I can go home from the opening round with a very good feeling about how I performed.
As you will all know, since Subaru decided to withdraw from the WRC, I've been running my own team and my main goal for the past three years with the Petter Solberg World Rally Team has been to return to a factory team. I'm really pleased to have been given the chance to drive for Ford this season and it was important for me to start the season well. The opening round is always one of the most important events of the year because a good result is a real boost to your confidence and leaves you knowing that you can fight at the front when the next event comes along.
Going to Monte Carlo, I hadn't spent too much time in the Fiesta, but after five days of competition behind the wheel I have to say that the car is absolutely fantastic; it was so quick and easy for me to drive. As you'd expect, I got more and more confident as the rally went on and I managed to set four fastest stage times which reflects how comfortable I felt. The most promising thing for me is that I've been told that the car is even faster on gravel and snow but the feeling of knowing you can control the car and go as fast as you want is just unbelievable.
My five days of running were pretty perfect if I'm being honest, although there was a wrong tyre choice on Friday, which meant I lost time to Dani Sordo on stage twelve. Without that – and a puncture on the following stage – I think I would have been able to fight him for second place, which would obviously have been even better for me. There was some pressure from behind from Mikko Hirvonen when he closed up on me at one point, but then again, there is always pressure in the WRC.
When you go over the start ramp on an event, you just focus on your own job as a driver and have to leave the others to themselves. You always want to go quicker but you have to focus on yourself and not worry about others. If I'd worried too much about Mikko then I might have made a mistake that could have cost me my podium, so I just did what I had to do.
Of course, Monte Carlo was returning to the calendar this season after a few years away as part of the IRC and I have to admit that it was an event I enjoyed a lot – even if I can now feel the effects of five days of competing behind the wheel! It is one of the real classic rallies and it is known for being the event that starts the season, plus it always serves up excitement along the way.
It's another tough event that follows as we go to Sweden next. It's basically my 'home' event this season and I'm very much looking forward to it. Running a day in Norway will also be good! Although there was some snow in Monte Carlo, doing a rally on proper snow roads is a great adventure. It's something I have always enjoyed because as a Norwegian, you grow up driving on snow. I haven't yet had the chance to sample the Fiesta on proper winter roads so I'm looking forward to the two-day test we have planned to see how good it is. As I said earlier though, the team has told me it is a strong car on snow.
The focus of that test, aside from me trying out the car in the conditions, will be to find the best set-up for the event itself. After my result in Monte Carlo, I'm going to head into the test and the second round of the season in confident mood and with the Fiesta, I feel optimistic that I can challenge for victory.
Until next time
To keep tabs on the Ford World Rally Team's progress, simply follow this link: www.wrcford.com