Petter Solberg was left ruing the continuing icy conditions on the final leg of Wales Rally GB that he reckoned cost him a podium finish to round off the 2008 World Rally Championship campaign – and arguably even his first victory in more than 50 outings.
In company with home-grown co-driver Phil Mills, Solberg had produced the kind of form that took him to four consecutive WRGB triumphs from 2005 to 2005 and the 2003 WRC crown on day two, as he had slashed the gap separating him from long-time leader Jari-Matti Latvala from 46 seconds overnight to just 24 seconds midway through the second leg.
Whilst expressing himself bullish about his chances of gaining his first win since 2005 [see separate story – click here
], the 34-year-old was rather more cautionary about the ice, the slippery conditions clearly not suiting the Subaru Impreza as well as they did the Citroën C4 or Ford Focus.
That much would be evinced on the final loop of stages in Rheola and Port Talbot on Sunday morning, as the Norwegian-Welsh duo grappled with temperatures dipping as low as minus five degrees Celsius and a chronic lack of grip, ultimately conceding a chunk of time to the leading trio and reaching the finish in Cardiff almost two minutes adrift of rally winner Sébastien Loeb, albeit still in fourth position.
“We have had some good stages and done a lot of very positive split times,” Solberg commented afterwards, “so it's been quite a good weekend and I'm pretty happy. I tried hard, but this morning was full ice so we were on the limit definitely.
“We had to settle for fourth, as we just didn't have the grip to push on the ice and there was no chance to close the gap. I tried some small adjustment on the dampers before service, but it was worse so I had to go back again for the afternoon.
“We knew yesterday that if there was ice this morning we would not have a chance, but if it was normal gravel or mud it would have been okay, because that's where we have improved the car since Japan.
“On the fast sections I'm as fast as everyone else, just not on the ice, but we are definitely moving right. There are still a few things to sort out, but now the team have some time until next season so I'm sure we'll return strong and able to really fight.
“It hasn't been the best year but we have seen in Japan that we have taken real steps forward. I am sure there will be some wins next year if we have more grip. The first rally next year is Ireland and it is only gravel. I want to do it now! I don't want to have a break – I'm all fired up!”