After Mexico, Solberg is Ford’s Strongest

Posted on 18. Mar, 2012 by in Event Coverage, Rally Mexico, World Rally Championship, WRC 2012

Photo: Ford World Rally Team

The 2012 WRC Rally Mexico was a difficult event for the Ford team. Petter Solberg was slowed with four flats, while Jari-Matti Latvala rolled after being distracted by a crashed car. With a very hard won third place finish, Solberg indicated he’s a strong contender for the 2012 title race in his WRC Ford Fiesta RS.

First and second place went to the Citroen teams of Sebastian Loeb and Daniel Elena, and Mikko Hirvonen with Jarmo Lehtinen. But their success may be short lived if Petter Solberg has his way.

“I was very happy with my podium in Mexico,” wrote Solberg in a column for Crash.net. “We showed that both works Fords will be able to really give Citroen a battle this season and that is very encouraging.”

Photo: Ford World Rally Team

Having won Rally Mexico in 2004, Solberg was the last driver to win the event before Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb’s dominance. At that time, Solberg was driving for Subaru World Rally Team, and was the defending World Champion. Though he went on to win five of the 16 events on the 2004 calendar, Solberg, three DNFs mid season ultimately handed Loeb the advantage he needed to win the first in a record breaking string of WRC titles.

Petter Solberg got his start in the WRC in 1999, with a three year contract as a junior driver with Ford. That year, Solberg was nominated as a points scoring driver at the Safari Rally after Thomas Radstrom was forced to withdraw ahead of the event with a an injury.

However, in a move that likely upset Ford management, Solberg broke his contract a year later to move to Subaru, where he was a third driver, behind Richard Burns and Juha Kankkunen. Team orders meant Solberg didn’t earn his first podium until the 2001 Acropolis Rally.

A year later, with Tommi Makinen as teammate, Solberg won his first WRC event, at Rally GB, after Marcus Gronholm crashed out.

Solberg repeated the win a year later to cement his driver’s championship.

“It’s incredible, I’m completely knackered,” said a breathless Solberg after winning the 2003 title. “It’s been a very hard year, with so many ups, and so many downs. Just very good fun for the whole team. This has been a biggest dream in the world.”

2006 WRC Rally Acropolis (Photo: Artur6969 | Dreamstime.com)

Solberg stayed with Subaru through 2008, with continually decreasing luck, and a seemingly untouchable opponent in Loeb and Citroen. By the end of the year, owing partly to a worsening world economy, but ore likely worsening results in competition, Subaru withdrew from WRC competition. Since then, rule changes have more or less precluded the Japanese manufacturer from returning to the WRC.

With all teams pulling back their commitments, Solberg was unable to find a factory drive and sat out the first event of 2009. After putting together private sponsorship, Solberg got his hands on a 2006 specification Citroen Xsara.

2009 WRC Rally Sardegna (Photo: Sekdo | Dreamstime.com)

With an obviously outclassed car, Solberg continued to battle on events, and in between events, battle for better equipment. By the end of the season, Solberg had a 2009 spec Citroen C4, which brought him closer to the leaders.

2010 WRC Rally Bulgaria (Photo: Bstefanov | Dreamstime.com)

Yet, without teammates, and a more careful consideration of strategy, Solberg often found himself leading an event, only to be sweeping the road for drivers behind, and dropping back out of contention.

2010 WRC Rally Mexico (Photo: Odm | Dreamstime.com)

In the middle of the 2010 season, Solberg’s team suffered another blow – the retirement of long time co-driver Phil Mills, who announced he wanted to focus on other things in life. The two had a continuous run of 152 rallies together, and many memorable moments, including the 2003 title.

2011 WRC Rally Sweden (Photo: Mhjerpe | Dreamstime.com)

Taking up co-driving duties has been Chris Patterson, who also drove the power stage at the 2011 Rally Sweden, where Solberg had lost his driver’s license.

Difficulties nearing the end of the 2011 season saw Loeb sit out the Rally GB, when an end of season driver shuffle saw him earn a shot with the team that started it all – Ford – as the junior driver to the younger Jari-Matti Latvala.

The contrast has been clear. While Jari-Matti still occasionally exhibits his youth by getting distracted, Solberg’s driving is measured, yet incredibly fast.

The result has been a Ford team with a seemingly renewed energy, drivers hungry to win and a car that is every bit as capable as the competition.

2012 WRC Rallye Monte Carlo (Photo: Pierre Jean Durieu | Dreamstime.com)

“By the end of the event I had posted twelve top-three times and taken three stage wins. The Fiesta RS WRC was fantastic,” said Solberg. “I was extremely happy with it and to achieve this on my first gravel event with the car was just unbelievable. The Fiesta is extremely competitive on the loose and I am absolutely convinced we can do very well during the rest of the season.”

After opening the 2012 WRC Rally Mexico with the fastest time in the qualifying run, Solberg bookended the event by winning the Power stage, to take the maximum extra points for the driver’s title.

“It was nice for me to take the Power Stage win at the end as well,” wrote Solberg. “Scoring is always important, but there is something a bit magical about the Power Stage. It is at the back of your mind during the event and then to actually pull it off and set the best time in it is just great.”

Despite his status as second driver with Ford, Solberg is now third in the driver’s standings, and the highest ranked Ford driver, with nearly double the points of Latvala. Ford also had success with non-works drivers Mads Ostberg, Ott Tanak and Ken Block all finishing inside the top ten.

At the end of March, teams will take on Rally Portugal. With such positive results so far, Solberg could be the driver to outdo Loeb.

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