Solberg fightback nets fourth for Ford in Rally de Portugal

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.