Ford's Petter Solberg was 'over the moon' after finishing on the podium on Rallye Monte Carlo on Sunday, his first competitive outing at the wheel of the Fiesta RS WRC car.
Solberg moved up into a podium position in SS2 and he then enjoyed a great cat-and-mouse duel with MINI's Dani Sordo over days one and two. However on Friday a wrong tyre choice in SS12 put him on the backfoot and while he put in a real charge on Saturday, winning three of the day's four stages and cutting the deficit to the Spaniard from over a minute to less than 20 seconds, sadly for the Norwegian it wasn't enough.
Still third place was a great result and a great way for him to mark his return to the Ford camp for the first time since 2000. It was also his personal best result on the event, and while he got into trouble for speeding on the road section on Saturday [see separate story - click here
], Petter was still very happy with his performance.
“I'm over the moon,” said Solberg. “I've absolutely loved this rally from start to finish and this is the best start to a WRC season I've ever had. It is my first rally in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC with so little testing beforehand, and we improved our speed all the way through. For me, this rally was mainly about getting some kilometres in the car, improving our speed and getting to the finish.
"I love the car – it is really fast, I can tell you! It suits my driving style very well. I've been waiting for a long time to get into a situation like this, and to have the full support from the Ford team feels fantastic.
“You need to have a good start to the season if you want to fight Seb [Loeb],” Solberg continued. “I understand the car is even better on gravel and snow, so I'm looking forward to moving onto those surfaces next.
“To finish this rally in the top three is the perfect start to the season – I couldn't have asked for anything more. Now I can concentrate solely on the driving, and I can't wait to get to Sweden!”
Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson meanwhile was encouraged by Solberg's first outing in the Fiesta RS WRC. Furthermore while he was of course disappointed to see team leader Jari-Matti Latvala crash out on the opening day, he took comfort from the Finn's ever impressive pace.
“Petter's experience has shone through as he has delivered a superb performance. The car has been 100 per cent faultless throughout the rally, and Petter has been really happy with it and has settled into the team very well,” Wilson said. “To leave here with his best-ever Monte-Carlo result is a great platform to build upon over the rest of the year.
“This has given us a lot of confidence going forward. We had the fastest driver on this rally with Jari-Matti leading early on and Petter has done a great job, so looking to the future we know we've got a really strong team. We have a test before Sweden, and I'm confident we'll come away with another positive result next month.”
Ford of Europe motorsport chief Gerard Quinn was also delighted with Solberg's drive: “This has been an extremely challenging start to the 2012 season, considering we've covered 433 stage kilometres over the last five days. We're thrilled for Petter and Chris [Patterson – his co-driver] finishing on the podium on their first outing in the Fiesta RS WRC. There was obviously disappointment with Jari-Matti going out of the rally so early on, but from the pace he showed, I'm confident it's going to be an exciting season for the Ford World Rally Team,” Quinn concluded.