In Petter Solberg's latest exclusive column on Crash.net, the Ford World Rally Team man looks back on Rally de Portugal, which was full of twists and turns from start to finish, although 'Hollywood' still managed to get another podium in his Fiesta RS WRC car...
Well Rally de Portugal was certainly a big, big adventure. The event included a lot of ups and down and it was very disappointing when we slid off the road on the Friday. In the end though, I was very happy with the result and again we proved we have the speed with the Fiesta RS WRC car. We just need a trouble-free run and then we will be on the top step of the rostrum.
Incidentally, that is how we warmed-up for the fourth round in the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship, and it was great to win the Fafe Rally Sprint the week before. It felt very good to take that victory and that was a real boost ahead of the start of the event in the Algarve.
After Jari-Matti [my team-mate and I] qualified 1-2 on the Wednesday, we opted to run last in the order on the first day and that was in stark contrast to what the Citroëns did. I believe it was the right choice though, for the Thursday night stages, and while it is always a gamble, this time we made the correct decision and we ended the day first and second overall.
However, on Friday, the weather really turned everything on its head. The conditions were just unbelievable. The mud, the rain and the fog made it a nightmare. We couldn't do anything when we slid off in SS6 - and that is what happened, we just literally slid off the road and dropped into a small ditch!
All number of people had problems on day two and only 12 of the 57 starters made it back to the Algarve stadium for the scheduled mid-day service. The rest were still stuck out there. Cars were all over the place and some were even stuck on the road sections. In the end then, the repeat stages were cancelled.
That worked in our favour and on Saturday we began the fight back re-starting under the Rally 2 regulations. It was still muddy and very slippery, but conditions were better than compared to the day before.
I think my pace showed that I was able to push a lot more and I was quickest in four of the day's six tests. Unfortunately the power steering failed in the last test and my hands and arms were completely worn out after it. It was lucky it happened in the final stage however, and not at the start of the loop as it cost us quite a bit of time and a place on the leaderboard. Still we had worked our way up from 13th overnight to fifth and we soon re-gained fourth on the final day.
That is where we finished too, until Mikko Hirvonen was excluded, which gave me my third podium of the season.
I am now second in the drivers' championship, just four points behind Sébastien Loeb and that feels good. I am also happy about the podium as it gives the team valuable points for the manufacturers'. It is just a shame the result was decided in the stewards' room - that is never great. I feel sorry for Mikko, but these things happen, and I have been there before too. You just have to move on.
Overall, Rally de Portugal was a good event as always. I like everything about Portugal – the stages are great, there are loads of spectators and the atmosphere is always fantastic. This year, the weather could have been better though!
We now head to Argentina at the end of this month and as I am confident the car is the best, there will be no need to push to the limit or do anything rash early on. Basically we will do the same as always and hopefully it will pay off. The Fiesta RS WRC is really fast and it is easy to drive - it is a real pleasure to get behind the wheel. I can push a lot and I am just enjoying every minute in it and can't wait for the trip to South America.
Argentina is a great event. I love the stages and the atmosphere and number of spectators is unbelievable. There are some great restaurants in Carlos Paz too, so I'm looking forward to making the most of that.
We won't have any testing before, but that is not a worry, especially as it is the third gravel event of the season. I've been on the podium three times already in Argentina, but have never won. I'd like to change that in a few weeks time.
Until next time, Petter Solberg
To keep tabs on the Ford World Rally Team's progress, simply follow this link: www.wrcford.com