Ford boss Malcolm Wilson has described the double exit of Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg from Rally de Portugal on Friday as 'massive disappointment'.
Both drivers were caught out in the treacherous weather conditions and went off the road on a day when the legacy of overnight storms forced organisers to cancel three of the six speed tests. It was especially disappointing though as they were running 1-2 and following Sebastien Loeb's exit on Thursday night, the 'Blue Oval' was well poised to make up significant ground in both championships.
Despite that, however, Wilson is still convinced the team can and will bounce back, and with both set to re-start under the Rally 2 regulations today [Saturday], points are still a very real possibility.
“After Sebastien Loeb's retirement, we had an opportunity to close on our championship rivals, but we squandered an incredible lifeline,” Wilson commented. “Conditions were treacherous but both drivers have a lot of experience. We didn't need the pace, we needed to be smart and clever but we were caught out.
“Jari-Matti is very hurt but we're 100 per cent supportive of him. We'll stay behind him and ensure we get back to winning rallies. We know both he and the car have the pace and we need to ensure that all comes together on the next rally in Argentina. It was a huge disappointment but I've been in this sport long enough to know we can fight back. Our real team spirit will kick in.”
Latvala was gutted to go out in the first test of the day, just 1.4km from the finish of the 25.01km Tavira stage.
“I turned into a left corner and saw a rock on the driving line,” he recalled. “I didn't have it marked in my pace notes and I tried to avoid it, but couldn't. The car touched the rock with the front left and the impact damaged the suspension. The front wheel bent into the wheel arch and the car spun backwards off the road and down a small bank on the right.
“It was muddy, foggy and wet and incredibly slippery – some of the most difficult conditions in which I've driven. We had big hopes this. We were first and second and had a good opportunity to close the gap on our rivals in the championship. Now that has gone.”
Solberg, who took over at the front, only to go out on the following test was also bitterly disappointed: “Thick fog made visibility virtually zero. I approached a slow right hand corner and braked as normal, but the car slid wide and dropped into a small ditch. I tried to get back on the road but the clutch burned out in trying to do so. It's so frustrating because I wasn't pushing hard. Survival was my only aim and I felt under control, but sometimes even when you ease off these things can happen.
“Conditions were unbelievably bad, and I've never driven this car in mud, rain and fog. I felt comfortable at the speed at which I was driving. Now I need to reach the end of the rally, see if I can get back into the points and try to take some bonus points in Sunday's Power Stage.”