In Mads Ostberg's latest exclusive column on Crash.net, the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team man reflects on finishing fifth in Australia and how he loved everything about the event, except for the snakes...
It's a long way to travel, but Rally Australia was well worth the trip and I was quite happy with fifth place in my Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team-run Ford Fiesta RS WRC car. Of course I would like to have been a bit higher up, but when it turned out as it did, P5 was very positive.
The event itself was brilliant too – or as they would say out there, it was fantastic! I enjoyed it from start to end. The atmosphere was amazing and the format was great too. Everything was good, except for the snakes. I'm not that happy about snakes, and especially when they are poisonous. I was actually discussing with Andreas [Mikkelsen] if we should even get out of the car if something happened on the stage. Luckily I didn't have to worry about that in the end...
Fortunately I didn't have any major jet-lag issues either. I did wake up early every day, but I had no problem getting to sleep in the evenings. Monday after the rally was actually the first time my alarm woke me up and then it was time to go back to Norway and fight the jet-lag all over again.
As usual our main preparations started with the recce and it was quite tough and challenging what with the event being new for myself and Jonas [Andersson – my co-driver] and with it being a difficult surface. I could never imagine the loose gravel on top would give us as much of a challenge as it did.
We were fourth quickest in qualifying on the Thursday and then things started with two-runs through Coffs, the short 1.6 kilometre super special, that we tackled six times in total by the finish.
Friday we headed out into the bush and the morning loop was quite hard. In some places my pace-notes were good, but in others they were just way too optimistic. I'm assuming it was because it was our first time in Oz. Luckily I have a good memory, so even though Jonas did change the notes, it was already in my head what to do the next time around.
We had quite a scare in the afternoon on Friday with a big moment in SS8 - Newry 2, when we had a sideways incident with a rock, and the impact was so massive that my door came open! Luckily we got away with it and finished the first full-day of competition in sixth. I was happy to get to the end of the leg, although I wasn't so pleased with being in P6. My aim is always higher than that.
The following day we made some progress and the pacenotes were a lot better. I also found it easier on the roads. We could have been fourth by the end but we had a sideways incident in Valla 2, the final proper test of the day. We were too wide into a corner and drifted down into the bank and spun. It was another pretty hairy moment.
On the Sunday, the final day, we got ahead of Andreas [Mikkelsen] in the opening test to take back fifth and that's where we finished up.
There were no issues with the car over the four days and it worked perfectly, which was very positive. All we had to do was to work to find the best set up and it got better and better. I also managed to adapt too.
We now head to France and back to asphalt. It is going to be interesting competing there and having the Power Stage as the first test of the rally is a real novelty. I am sure that lots of drivers will be pushing to do well on it.
The event in Alsace always attracts a lot of fans and I think we can be guaranteed that this time too, given Sebastien Ogier should clinch the title in front of his home fans, and given the return of a certain Sebastien Loeb.
We will have some testing beforehand and we will be looking to see how we can conquer the tarmac. We had some good pre-event tests for Finland and Germany, so I hope we can have another good one for Rallye de France.
As always I will be aiming for nothing less than the podium. I know it will be difficult with lots of very fast tarmac specialists, but that is the goal and having been seventh in France in 2011 and fifth in 2012 we are going in the right direction. If we can get the speed and set-up right from the very first stage and run a clever rally, I see no reason why we shouldn't be on the rostrum.
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