Ex-world champion Petter Solberg, who combines running his eponymous team with driving duties, has led events and set countless fastest stage times. However, until round five in Italy, a podium finish had eluded the Norwegian and his British co-driver Chris Patterson.
Indeed, their run to third place on the island of Sardinia in early May remains the only top-three finish to date for the Citroen DS3 WRC-mounted pair, who hold fifth in the championship standings after seven events.
“We’ve got the speed, we’ve got used to the car but in actual championship position and results, we’re not where we hoped to be,” says Rees. “After last year’s really successful season in the C4, we thought we’d be top three at the moment within the championship. The stage times and performance should reflect that but at the moment being fifth isn’t quite where we’re happy with.”
It’s not for the want of trying. Solberg has been at his determined best all season but he’s been frequently dogged by misfortune in his battle against the factory teams on his limited budget.
In Sweden, where he was dicing for a podium after limited pre-event running in his new car, he was forced to swap seats with Patterson for the final stage after his licence was suspended following a speeding infringement.
He was on course for a podium on round two in Mexico only for an electrical glitch to cost him almost seven minutes, while a succession of punctures ruined his bid in Portugal. He crashed in Jordan and dropped out of the lead battle in Italy when a turbo boost pipe worked loose. He was a contender for victory in Argentina only for a powersteering failure to wreck his hopes. He held a commanding lead after the first day of the Acropolis Rally in Greece but slipped back on day two and suffered more woe with a pace note mix-up on the night stage.
But Rees insists his star driver isn’t about to throw in the towel, adding: “We’ve got to keep trying. He’ll be good in Finland and if you look at Germany from last year we did a very good performance there. Then we’ve got the new event in Australia so we’ve got to be positive and look that we are going to make the top of the podium.”
While Solberg’s DS3 WRC is prepared and maintained by Citroen technicians and supported by a dedicated Citroen engineer on events, the Petter Solberg World Rally Team remains an independent operation. That means the task of finding the budget needed for a full season of rallying falls on Solberg’s shoulders.
“We’re a customer, we’re on a small budget and it’s self-funded,” explains Rees. “It’s difficult, the work load between events for Petter means he constantly gets to events tired. The works drivers have the advantage of a lot more testing and better facilities and better time off. If Petter was in a factory car, he’d certainly be top of the podium. He’s almost got as many fastest stage times as [Sebastien] Ogier and [Sebastien] Loeb, we’re up there with him, we just don’t get that final stroke of luck.”
Rees continues: “To get some consistency with some podiums would be nice at the moment. But for the future, Petter will keep trying hard, we’ll keep working with Citroen and we’ll get the reliability, we’ll get the performance. But you can’t give up, not when you’ve got a driver of Petter’s level.”
“After last year’s really successful season in the C4, we thought we’d be top three at the moment..."