It’s fitting that on a rally as spectacular as Rally México, one of the World Rally Championship’s most charismatic drivers – Petter Solberg – was at the center of attention as soon as the event was added to the WRC schedule.
Although he was carrying the #1 on the door of his Subaru Impreza WRC, Solberg was badly in need of a result when he arrived in México for the first time after Sébastien Loeb won the opening two rounds of the 2004 season.
Running on Pirelli tires while all of his rivals were on Michelins potentially put Solberg at an advantage in the Mexican mountains, but he made full use of it regardless. Fastest on both SS1 and SS3, Solberg led the rally as the cars returned back to the first service halt in León at the end of the first day.
But in some respects Solberg was lucky to be there at all let alone in the lead, having run dangerously wide on a fast corner of SS4, dropping the rear of his Subaru into a ditch which lifted the rear of his car into the air and broke the rear-right toe link.
However, it wasn’t this issue that had the faces of Subaru’s management team looking rather worried as Solberg booked into service.
One unique aspect of the León service area was it was indoors, and there was an incline from the in-control to the time control for the end-of-day service. That’s precisely what you don’t want when horsepower has been replaced by manpower.
The battery in Solberg’s Subaru had run flat and he couldn’t get it going. And because he was in a time control, the rules mandated that only Solberg and co-driver Phil Mills were able to push the car.
Despite their best efforts, grabbing hold of the rollcage and pulling the car forwards, the gradient of the road and the lack of grip on offer from Alpinestars’ finest racing boots meant the Impreza simply wasn’t budging.
I lost that rally because of this. It was quite toughPetter Solberg
In the end, an army of people jumped to Solberg and Mills’ rescue and the car was pushed into service. But outside assistance – requested by the competing crew or not – was a breach of the regulations, and Solberg and Mills were slapped with a 5m40s penalty.
As if to prove a point, Solberg was fastest – and by some margin – on all six of Saturday’s stages to eventually rise back up from 13th to fourth place at the end of the event.
Reflecting on the drama today, Solberg is sanguine – making reference to a similar example his son Oliver recently experienced.
“Well, I must say that when I saw Oliver in Monza last year and he was pushing the car, he couldn’t start the car into service, I was thinking OK I hope it’s not a ramp, and it was flat the whole way,” said Solberg.
“But that one year in México I was leading after the day and we parked it, we had a coffee even before going into service and of course they had put a small ramp just before you go into the service park, just for the show and everything, and the yellow board was at the bottom of that one and the red board was at the top.
“And I lost that rally because of this. It was quite tough, I think I won all the other stages again on Saturday after, I was quite angry, but it is such a good rally for everyone.”
It would prove to be a good rally for Solberg exactly 12 months later too, when he righted the wrong of 2004. Find out more about that very soon.
Rally of Nations Guanajuato is partnered by DirtFish Media and takes place on April 1-3.