Spent
an enthralling day watching the Wales Rally GB yesterday. Many years
ago the WRC was my bread and butter - I reported on the entire series
for several seasons, happily racking up around 153 air miles on Z-class
economy tickets as I followed McRae, Burns, Sainz and Gronholm to places
like Kenya, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. I’m almost ashamed to
admit that I hadn’t been to an event in more than three years before
last weekend
.

Still, lots of the usual suspects were there - including Petter Solberg, whose
arrival on the scene, jump to prominence and world championship victory
all occurred during my spell of WRC reporting. He’s a privateer these
days, having lost his manufacturer gig when Subaru withdrew two years
ago. And yet as we spoke, during remote servicing at Builth Wells on
Saturday afternoon, Petter was in the middle of a dogged scrap with
seven-times champion Sebastien Loeb for the lead of the event.

“It’s
hard, being a privateer but fighting with the manufacturer team,” he
said. “Seb can go flat out everywhere; he doesn’t have to worry about
anything. Me? I’m thinking sometimes about how many suspension rebuilds
we have to do, or how many parts we have left. It’s not a big issue, but
at times it’s like one per cent. And that can make the difference.”

Given
his pace, I enquired, wouldn’t Citroen be tempted to give him a third
DS3 WRC for 2011, alongside its all-too-French line-up of Loeb and
Sebastien Ogier? “I dunno,” admitted Petter with a shrug. “We’re
talking, but no one’s offered anything yet...”

In
the end, of course, Loeb won, as he so often does. But Petter finished a
fine second and claimed third overall in the final standings - no mean
feat for a man whose car carries the scattergun livery of a couple of
dozen small sponsors instead of three proper ones. If Citroen wants to
be seen as an international team in an international series, it could do
far worse than chuck some proper support in the direction of the man
who still has the largest supporter base and fan club in the WRC.

Incidentally,
in case you’re wondering why Solberg doesn’t just rejoin Ford, the team
with which he arrived in the sport, he had a falling-out some years ago
with that team’s boss, Malcolm Wilson. Perhaps a full reconciliation would
be beneficial to both parties; Petter has won on asphalt, after all, and
the Blue Oval’s current line-up - mega-Finns Mikko Hirvonen and
Jari-Matti Latvala - hasn't got a cat’s chance in hell of doing that in
the foreseeeable future. Given that Germany, Spain and France are all
still present in the WRC for 2012, it seems to me that Ford is
trying to win the full championship by contesting only three quarters of it.