Solberg makes it a GB triple
Great Britain - Subaru - Petter Solberg -
Reigning champion Petter Solberg secured a hat-trick of Wales Rally GB wins for Subaru with what he described as his toughest ever win. The Subaru ace emerged on top after a tooth-and-nail scrap with Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb – the man likely to take his title.
Loeb led the event from the second stage, but Solberg conquered early suspension problems on leg one and then drove gustily throughout the remaining stages of the rally to close his deficit to the Frenchman.
By the start of the final day’s four stages, the pair were just over seven seconds apart, but a stellar and determined performance from Solberg enabled him to catch and pass Loeb on the penultimate stage and seal a historic third Rally GB win on the final run through the Cardiff superspecial.
Today has worked very well, I must say,” Solberg admitted. “It has been bloody hard work, but very good fun. This has been the biggest and most difficult win of my career. It has been a big fight, and I’ve never had to push so hard in my life as I did in those last few stages. The nerves were on the outside of my body.
Loeb, though, did enough to ensure he carries a 28-point advantage over Solberg into the final four rounds of the World Rally Championship. Two of those are on asphalt – a surface that tends to suit Loeb and his Citroen Xsara. As such, he was never truly concerned by the fact that he might lose out to Solberg and Subaru in Wales.
It has been very close all weekend, and we’ve been fighting for seconds on virtually every stage,” he said. “I made a little mistake in the penultimate stage which cost me the win, but this is the nature of rallying.
Markko Martin rounded out a solid weekend for Ford, overcoming engine problems on Saturday to ensure he stayed ahead of Citroen’s double world champion, Carlos Sainz. Martin’s Ford team-mate, Francois Duval, impressed by topping four of the stages, including the two superspecials, in a mature performance that netted the Belgian fifth place.
Harri Rovanpera was the sole remaining Peugeot runner following double world champion Marcus Gronholm’s retirement on Saturday and Daniel Carlsson’s problems on Friday. The Finn finished sixth ahead of Subaru young gun Mikko Hirvonen, who finally ended his Rally GB jinx to end the event seventh. Bozian Racing Peugeot privateer Manfred Stohl completed the points finishers after Ford Focus privateer Mark Higgins lost time after sliding off on the penultimate stage.
Skoda didn’t have too much joy in Wales after successful outings in Finland and Germany, all three cars suffering problems. Young Finn Toni Gardemeister was the only one of the trio to finish, in 21st, after losing time on Saturday’s second leg.