2 DECEMBER 29 2011 motorsport-news.co.uk
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Former champion happy to play the team
Pe tter Solber g w ill re tur n t o t he Fo rd cockpit fo r h is 2012 challeng e
By Dan McCalla Petter Solberg insists he is happy to play a supporting role to Jari-Matti Latvala at Ford for the 2012 WRC season, after the team confirmed that Latvala will be its chosen contender for the drivers’ crown. Norwegian Solberg, 37, has been given a rallying lifeline by the Blue Oval, which has handed the former world champion a one-year deal as it launches an assault on the manufacturers’ title with two experienced drivers.
The push is part of Ford’s renewed commitment to world championship rallying until at least the end of the 2013 season.
Petter plays deputy Solberg has returned to Ford 12 years after his exit led to a major fall-out with team boss Malcolm Wilson. The seat was the last works driver to be filled for 2012, and Solberg told MN earlier this month that it was his only option to continue in the WRC. Despite his ambitions of a second title Solberg is content to play second fiddle to Latvala for 2012, as Latvala is the established figure in the team.
“Jari has been in the team for a long time and he’s a very fast driver, so this is the thing I have to accept,” Solberg told MN. “I have no problem with that. I respect him a lot as a driver as well, so it’s no problem for me. I have my dreams and I work really well with Jari. Hopefully both of us can win a few
Solber g h as Fo cus ex per ience rallies and we can win the manufacturers’ championship. The championship will be very important, so we’ll start from the first rally and see how we go. You have to start smart and it’s very important to get good points from the start of the season.”
Solberg’s contract explicitly states that he will be Ford’s designated number two driver, although there will be no disparity in equipment between his Fiesta RS WRC and Latvala’s. Team chief Malcolm Wilson admitted that several drivers came into consideration for the season, including young hotshots Ott Tänak and Mads Østberg. But he explained that taking on a driver with well over a decade of WRC experience gives Ford a fighting chance of winning the makes crown for the first time since 2007.
“We had a complete review of drivers, with Ott, Mads and others,” Wilson told MN. “I felt those two have great potential but I didn’t want to put them into the main team this early. I suppose that’s my memory of putting JariMatti into the main team too soon. I would prefer to have those guys do another 12 months without the pressure of being in the main team and going for the title. I feel with the combination of Jari-Matti and Petter we have a strong chance of going for the manufacturers’ championship whereas going with one of the youngsters would have lessened that chance.” With Solberg’s contract only running for a single season, he will have to prove himself in order to hold onto the drive, with Wilson confirming that both Tänak and Østberg could put themselves in the frame for 2013 if they impress next year.
“At the end of 2012 both Petter and Jari are out of contract,” said Wilson. “I’d like to keep Jari but we’ll also be evaluating Petter throughout the season. We will also be evaluating Mads Østberg and Ott Tänak to see if they’re ready to make the step up, so it’s a question of seeing who comes up to the grade.”
Ford’s bright future For Wilson, Ford of Europe’s confirmation that it will stay in world championship rallying came as a huge relief, following months of uncertainty that the Cumbrian’s firm 15-year tenure as
MN, Dec 7: Solberg pins his hopes on Ford works drive the Ford factory team may have been about to end. Wilson said that a deal appeared more and more likely over the course of the autumn, but that the recent uncertainty around the WRC’s global promoter North One Sport threatened to scupper it. However, assurances from FIA president Jean Todt that the series would not be left without a promoter allowed the Blue Oval’s board to commit for two years, with an option to extend the new arrangement into 2014.
“We’ve had a couple of weeks where we thought we were OK, but the big bombshell was the North One situation,” said Wilson. “Ford wouldn’t sign up until they got some assurances from the FIA – I don’t blame them for that, because you can’t sign up for a world championship when you don’t have a promoter in place. The green light came on Tuesday [December 13], and then it was