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Resurgent Solberg charges up to fourth

in Rally de Portugal


By Olivier Ferret

31 March 2012 - 22:45
Resurgent Solberg charges up to (...)

Ford World Rally Team drivers Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson won four consecutive speed tests today during a tremendous recovery that powered them back up the Rally de Portugal leaderboard. They climbed from 13th to fourth during the third leg in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car, before a power steering problem during the final special stage dropped them back to fifth.

Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila lie 18th in their Fiesta RS WRC. The Finns’ attempts to climb the order were derailed by a fuel pressure problem early this afternoon which cost 12 minutes.

Today’s action in this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship comprised two identical loops of three gravel stages, covering 148.16km north of the Algarve holiday resort of Faro. Despite more overnight rain, the roads were in better condition than yesterday. The morning tests were mainly damp and muddy but a strong breeze and patchy sunshine ensured they were fully dry this afternoon.

Both Solberg and Latvala, who both restarted under Rally 2 regulations after retiring yesterday, opted for Michelin’s wet weather, soft compound Latitude Cross tyres this morning. They were not ideal in the rapidly drying opening stage, but came into their own in the following two tests, when the roads were wetter. Solberg began his winning run by setting fastest time in both stages to climb to ninth.

With his car now fitted with harder rubber, the 37-year-old Norwegian won the opening two afternoon stages to leap to fourth. His run of fastest times was only interrupted by a power steering problem during the final test, which cost 60sec and dropped him to fifth. However, he is just 16.4sec behind Nasser Al-Attiyah in fourth.

“I took a massive amount of time back,” said Solberg. “The car’s pace was incredible. I found the magic set-up and really enjoyed driving it. At the start of the day the team was aiming for fifth tonight, but I was aiming for fourth. I was fourth, but then I slipped back to fifth – so perhaps the team was correct all along!

“The final stage was really hard on my hands and arms. After driving the whole way with no power steering, my hands are blistered and my arms ache, and it shows how important good fitness is. I want to score as many championship points as I can. As we’ve seen already in this rally, a lot can still happen over the final 115km and I haven’t ruled out a podium finish yet,” added Solberg.

Latvala restarted in 16th with bigger time penalties than his team-mate following his retirement. He drove cautiously through the morning, moving up a place as he closed the large time gaps to those in front. However, his hopes of breaking back into the top 10 ended on the afternoon’s opening stage when he dropped a further 12 minutes after his car stopped with a fuel pressure problem.

“Halfway through the stage the engine stopped on an uphill section,” said Latvala. “We discovered there was no fuel pressure and changed a lot of parts, including the ECU and spark plugs. Finally it restarted and we completed the stage. It stopped again in a river crossing in the next test. I thought it was the same problem, but it seems the engine inhaled some water and it restarted after 20 sec.

“When things go wrong for me on a rally, they seem to go really wrong. It’s frustrating because I had a chance of climbing into the top 10 again, but that’s gone now. Tomorrow I will focus on trying to score bonus points in the Power Stage and manufacturer points for the team,” he said.

Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson remained confident of a solid result. “I believe Petter can regain fourth tomorrow. He was fantastic today, winning four of the six stages. Jari-Matti did well to make temporary repairs to ensure he could complete all the stages and return to service. Both cars have been fully repaired for tomorrow and despite everything, we are on course for strong manufacturers’ points,” he said.

News from other Ford teams

Adapta World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson climbed from third to second in the opening stage and built a 29.3sec advantage over M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet. Both drivers overcame an engine misfire this morning. Czech Ford National Team’s Martin Prokop / Zdenĕk Hrůza lie sixth despite a wrong tyre choice this afternoon. They are just one place ahead of the similar Fiesta RS WRC of M-Sport Ford’s Dennis Kuipers / Robin Buysmans. Jari Ketomaa / Mika Stenberg round off the top 10, despite losing several minutes this afternoon with no rear brakes. Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk climbed to 13th, the Estonians surviving a brush with a rock in the opening stage, which damaged their car’s sump guard.

Tomorrow’s Route

The fourth and final leg is based in the hills north-west of Faro and covers 115.08km of competition. Drivers leave the Algarve Stadium at 06.55 for two identical loops of three special stages, divided by a return to the stadium for service. The final 5.08km Sambro test forms the live TV Power Stage, with bonus points on offer to the fastest three drivers. The rally finishes at the stadium at 15.30.


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