Solberg takes us for a ride around Cornbury in the Fiesta RS WRC
Whilst at the recent Rally Show at Cornbury Park, I also had the chance to experience Ford's latest rally weapon, the Fiesta RS WRC, from the passenger seat on the special 1.2 mile stage.
It certainly made an interesting comparison with the MINI John Cooper Works WRC car that I also got a passenger ride in on the same day.
Again, the first hurdle was actually sitting in the Fiesta. Climbing over a roll cage is never easy, but this was made worse by a borrowed race suit which was too small and was stopping any quick movements.
Still, I'm pleased that the sight of me getting in the car provided so much amusement for all those present.
This race suit was so tight I actually had trouble getting my breath for the first couple of minutes after the M-Sport Engineers had fitted the five-point harness. All this meant that it took me a little while to calm myself and think about the situation I was in, not good as we're soon at the start.
The Fiesta WRC was being driven on that day by Stobart M-Sport team driver Henning Solberg, older brother of 2003 World Rally Champion Petter.
This time the intercom is connected and we share a few words, Henning then casually asks if "I've ever been in a WRC car?" I reply saying that I'd already been in the MINI, which on reflection probably wasn't the best answer as I'm sure from then on he was trying to impress and scare in equal measures.
I take a brief look around the Fiesta's interior before we get going. Unlike the MINI, which was a development car, this is Mikko Hirvonen's Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team car, that last saw action on the Rally Italy.
Like the MINI, there's the basic shape of the dash covered in furry, flocked finish. There are also various wires, black boxes and the vacuum-like tubes for the interior fan zip-tied to the roll cage. We're sitting low and further back than in a standard Fiesta, the interior also feels far more compact than the MINI.
Before I know it, the starter gives us the 10 second hand sign, then five fingers are held up and at this point Henning pulls the long gear selector towards him with a bang and the engine note of the 300bhp 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine changes from mildly scary to full on threatening.
As the last finger drops, Henning powers the Fiesta off the start line; my initial thoughts are that it feels softer than the MINI but no slower.
The first series of right and left turns arrives as quick, but it's interesting to note the different techniques used by both drivers. Henning brakes, drops a couple of gears, turns and grabs at the handbrake. Before I take in what's happening, the rear of the Fiesta is in a perfectly controlled drift and we're through these obstacles and back on the power.
I was interested to see how the Fiesta coped with the tighter hay chicanes further down the course. Henning was no certainly no slower on his approach and I was again treated to some amazing drift action. I still can't quite understand how he managed to get the Ford so sideways in such a small space, it was very impressive.
Next comes the jump, which like the MINI, the Fiesta handles with ease. If anything the Fiesta copes better, its softer suspension making it hard to tell where we take-off and land. However, I'm not sure how the set-ups of the two cars differed.
Then it was just a short corner and straight until the end of the stage and my passenger ride. However, Henning was still committed to finishing this lap as fast as he could and there was a seemingly endless slab of power right to the end.
As we cross the line, he looks across to me and asks: "so which is better the MINI or the Fiesta?" I respond by saying its close, very close. Both cars very equally matched. It's a question that will be answered by the end of this season.