Ford World Rally Team’s Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson finished fourth in Rally de Portugal today after a superb recovery drive that saw them power back from 13th. Their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car finished just 22.4sec from a podium in this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, having been almost seven minutes adrift.
Solberg slid into a ditch and retired from the lead during Friday’s second leg of this four-day event. After restarting with a 10 minute time penalty, the 37-year-old Norwegian won four consecutive speed tests yesterday and two more today as he charged up the order. The result means Solberg retains third in the drivers’ standings with nine rounds remaining.
Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila finished 14th in their Fiesta RS WRC after an incident-packed weekend. The 26-year-old missed out on drivers’ points, but claimed two bonus points after finishing second in the final live TV Power Stage.
Heavy rain and fog turned the rally into one of attrition. Friday’s special stages in the hills near the Algarve base of Faro were transformed into a muddy mess, and simply staying on the road became a priority. Conditions were so bad that organisers cancelled half the day’s scheduled competition.
As a result drivers tackled just 19 of the scheduled 22 stages, covering 368.43km. The Ford team won 12 stages, Solberg claiming eight victories and Latvala four.
Solberg started today’s final leg in fifth, after dropping a further 60sec with power steering problems in last night’s final test. However, he climbed to fourth and closed on third-placed Evgeny Novikov through the 115.08km of competition but fell just short of what would have been a remarkable podium.
“The weekend was a big, big adventure!” said Solberg. “To finish fourth after everything that happened is a fantastic feeling. I was so disappointed after retiring on Friday and I didn’t sleep that night. It was so muddy and foggy that I knew anything could happen – and it did.
“My times were good throughout and after being so far behind, to miss a podium by only 22sec is a little frustrating. But I mustn’t be greedy, I’m grateful for what I achieved this weekend. I scored good points and I’m in a strong championship position,” he added.
Latvala led after the opening leg but retired from the second day when he hit a rock, damaging his car’s suspension and going off the road. After restarting yesterday with time penalties, fuel pressure problems cost 12 minutes and he started today in 18th. The 26-year-old Finn won three stages to climb to 14th.
“I need to approach the rest of the year on a rally by rally basis,” said a disappointed Latvala. “It’s still early in the season and I must focus on finding that relaxed feeling again and enjoy driving. I’ve hit too many rocks this year and I need to work on that weakness. Maybe I don’t need to go quite so tight into corners and I must react faster to unexpected circumstances.
“I really appreciate the support of Malcolm Wilson and the team because, of course, we’re all disappointed to have lost so many points. A silver plate was offered to us here, but what is done is done and can’t be changed. I need to look to the future now and ensure I learn from this weekend. I’m a lot stronger mentally than I was a couple of years ago so I know I will get through this,” he said.
Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson admitted he was disappointed. “We dominated the stage times and were clearly the fastest driver / car combination, but we made two mistakes which were costly. Looking at everything that happened, I’m relieved not to lose too much ground in the championship. We need to ensure our drivers and cars work together on the next round,” he said.
Ford Racing motorsport manager Gerard Quinn said: “It was an extremely difficult rally. When you consider the preparation and competitiveness of the car, then I expected a victory. I’m delighted with the performance of the Fiesta RS WRC, but knowing how competitive we were only makes the result more frustrating. However, we will dig deep, put this rally behind us and focus on the next round in Argentina,” he said.
News from other Ford teams
Adapta World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson retained second, despite an engine misfire this morning. M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet were third, despite a broken throttle cable three stages from the end. Novikov became the first Russian to score a WRC podium. Czech Ford National Team’s Martin Prokop / Zdenĕk Hrůza were sixth after being edged out of fifth in the final stage. M-Sport Ford’s Dennis Kuipers / Robin Buysmans were seventh and Jari Ketomaa / Mika Stenberg made it six Fiesta RS WRCs on the leaderboard in 10th. Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk finished 15th after a difficult weekend, which ended with damage to the rear suspension and a brake disc this morning.
Round five takes Ford World Rally Team to South America for the second long-haul event of the season. The all-gravel Rally Argentina is based in Villa Carlos Paz on 26 - 29 April.
1. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Citroen DS3 4hr 19min 24.3sec
2. M Østberg/J Andersson NOR Ford Fiesta RS 4hr 21min 16.1sec
3. E Novikov/D Giraudet RUS Ford Fiesta RS 4hr 22min 49.3sec
4. P Solberg/C Patterson NOR Ford Fiesta RS 4hr 23min 11.7sec
5. N Al Attiyah/G Bernacchini QAT Citroen DS3 4hr 27min 21.9sec
6. M Prokop/Z Hrůza CZE Ford Fiesta RS 4hr 27min 25.3sec
7. D Kuipers/R Buysmans NED Ford Fiesta RS 4hr 28min 03.4sec
8. S Ogier/J Ingrassia FRA Skoda Fabia S2000 4hr 28min 25.1sec
9. T Neuville/N Gilsoul BEL Citroen DS3 4hr 29min 54.0sec
10 J Ketomaa/M Stenberg FIN Ford Fiesta RS 4hr 31min 08.9sec
1. M Hirvonen 75pts
2. S Loeb 66pts
3. P Solberg 59pts
4. M Østberg 46pts
5. E Novikov 36pts
6. J-M Latvala 28pts
1. Citroen Total WRT 133pts
2. Ford WRT 91pts
3. M-Sport Ford WRT 60pts
4. Qatar WRT 28pts
5. Mini WRT 26pts
6. Citroen Junior WRT 16pts
Stage 17: 1. Latvala 12min 01.2sec; 2. P Solberg + 19.6; 3. Sordo + 21.7; 4. Tänak + 26.6; 5. Neuville + 30.9. 6. Hirvonen + 38.3.
Overall: 1. Hirvonen 3hr 12min 13.1sec; 2. Østberg + 1:14.7; 3. Novikov + 1:54.1; 4. P Solberg + 6:07.8; 5. Al Attiyah + 6:32.8; 6. Prokop + 7:13.4; 18. Latvala + 21:48.7.
Stage 18: 1. Latvala 22min 48.0sec; 2. P Solberg + 10.2; 3. Neuville + 14.7; 4. Sordo + 30.0; 5. Hirvonen + 54.9; 6. Sandell + 1:00.2
Overall: 1. Hirvonen 3hr 35min 56.0sec; 2. Østberg + 1:22.6; 3. Novikov + 2:18.0; 4. P Solberg + 5:23.1; 5. Al Attiyah + 7:12.0; 6. Prokop + 7:46.8; 17. Latvala + 20:53.8.
Stage 19: 1. P Solberg 3min 09.2sec; 2. Sordo + 0.1; 3. Latvala + 1.7; 4. Hirvonen + 4.0; 5. Ketomaa + 5.9; 6. Sandell + 6.3
Overall: 1. Hirvonen 3hr 39min 09.2sec; 2. Østberg + 1:40.1; 3. Novikov + 2:26.4; 4. P Solberg + 5:19.1; 5. Al Attiyah + 7:15.9; 6. Prokop + 7:54.1; 17. Latvala + 20:51.5.
Stage 20: 1. P Solberg 12min 05.2sec; 2. Latvala + 8.0; 3. Neuville + 8.4; 4. Sordo + 9.4; 5. Hirvonen + 19.1; 6. Østberg + 22.2.
Overall: 1. Hirvonen 3hr 51min 33.5sec; 2. Østberg + 1:43.2; 3. Novikov + 2:49.3; 4. P Solberg + 5:00.0; 5. Al Attiyah + 7:26.9; 6. Prokop + 8:09.0; 17. Latvala + 20:40.4.
Stage 21: 1. Latvala 22min 54.1sec; 2. P Solberg + 23.4; 3. Neuville + 1:03.5; 4. Ketomaa + 1:10.7; 5. Prokop + 1:17.0; 6. Hirvonen + 1:17.2.
Overall: 1. Hirvonen 4hr 15min 44.8sec; 2. Østberg + 1:58.6; 3. Novikov + 3:32.0; 4. P Solberg + 4:06.2; 5. Prokop + 8:08.8; 6. Al Attiyah + 8:15.2; 14. Latvala + 19:23.2.
Stage 22: 1. Sordo 3min 10.4sec; 2. Latvala + 0.2; 3. Tänak + 2.0; 4. Ketomaa + 8.8; 5. P Solberg + 10.2; 6. Al Attiyah + 11.5.
Overall: 1. Hirvonen 4hr 19min 24.3sec; 2. Østberg + 1:51.8; 3. Novikov + 3:25.0; 4. P Solberg + 3:47.4; 5. Al Attiyah + 7:57.6; 6. Prokop + 8:01.0; 14. Latvala + 18:54.4.