In Petter Solberg's latest exclusive column on Crash.net, the Ford World Rally Team man looks back on Rallye de France, where he had that rather notable off in the first stage on Saturday morning...
After getting back on the podium in Wales, France was naturally extremely disappointing for me, especially as we were in such a good position going into Saturday's stages. We had just set the fastest first split in the opening test on Saturday morning and everything felt good; the car was spot-on and I had everything under control. And then, well, we all know what happened next...
I believe I could have taken third place, and a two-three finish for Ford World Rally Team would have been a really strong result, but these things happen sometimes. It was nobody's fault really – just a couple of small things that combined to cause a fairly big 'off' and as we all know, it only takes the tiniest of mistakes to cause a big accident. I understand it has become a bit of a YouTube sensation!
I probably owe an apology, though, to the farmer whose vines I destroyed and the villagers I left without electricity for the day...
The event started 'proper' the day before and initially I wasn't so happy. I was struggling to find the pace in the car, but we made some changes for the afternoon loop and that transformed everything. I was really able to attack and go flat-out after that, which was reflected in the times, as I was a lot more competitive and beat Mikko Hirvonen on every single stage. I was only seven tenths of a second behind him at the end of the opening leg, so there's no question in my mind that we could have finished up on the rostrum.
As it was though, after what happened in SS9, it was all over. I did re-start on the Sunday and we took a couple of manufacturers' points for Ford, which was something, but it wasn't much consolation if I am honest. I was just driving around for the fans more than anything else on that final day. There was nothing left to push for so it wasn't worth going mad and risking another accident for no reward. I wasn't even able to fight for any points on the Power Stage either due to my road position. All I can say is that I'm very sorry for the team, because they deserved a lot better.
The Fiesta RS WRC has the pace to win rallies, as [my team-mate] Jari-Matti [Latvala] has proved twice this year already – so that's what Chris [Patterson – my co-driver] and I have to aim for over the final two rounds of the season.
In terms of the event itself, Rallye de France is always one that I really enjoy, and the new stages this year made it even more of a challenge. That's good – good for the competitors and good for the fans, because it keeps everybody on their toes. Of course, after a completely dry rally in 2011, the weather had a say this year, too. But, despite the dismal conditions at times, the atmosphere over the event was great, and easily amongst the best of the year. The service park in Strasbourg Zénith is always buzzing and there are literally thousands upon thousands of spectators lining the stages and cheering us all on. Apparently, there's some local guy they turn up to support who seems to be doing quite well...!
All thoughts switch to Sardinia now and, as I said previously, since we have only two chances left to win a rally this season, that is the goal for Rally d'Italia. I've won there before – in fact, I won the first rally to be based out of Olbia back in 2004 – and I always enjoy it. I always seem to go well in Italy too and have achieved five podiums there from the last nine starts. That bodes well.
Next week's event will obviously be at a different time of year, which will affect the weather and the condition of the stages, but particularly after the kind of rally we had in France, I just can't wait to get back out there again. They always say that the best way to get over a bad result is to bounce straight back with a good one – so that's what I'll be targeting. Furthermore, while the route is a real challenge, the spectators really make it special. They are hugely enthusiastic and passionate about the sport, as you would expect from the Italians.
We won't have any testing this time due to the tight schedule in-between France and Italy, but that shouldn't be an issue, because everyone will be in the same boat. My priority will be a good finish – and we need it. After a couple of bad results recently in Germany and France, and after of course missing out on second place in GB by the tiniest of margins, we will really be going for it. It's time to turn it around.
Until next time, Petter Solberg
To keep tabs on the Ford World Rally Team's progress, simply follow this link: www.wrcford.com