Petter Solberg wrote another chapter of history in the FIA World Rally Championship when he scored his fourth win of the season to clinch the 2003 drivers' title - and the first for a driver from Norway. Solberg took control of the rally on the fourth stage and was never seriously challenged over the last two and a half days. The Subaru driver controlled proceedings from the front - backing off a little this morning, but charging back to set another fastest time through the 18th and final stage of the day. Solberg ended the event with a 43.6-second lead over runner-up Sebastien Loeb. Loeb's disappointment at missing out on the drivers' title was tempered slightly by the fact that Citroen won the manufacturers' award in its first full season with the Xsara WRC. When the day started out with foggy conditions in Rheola, Loeb was given the green light to push again and try to put Solberg under pressure. Frequelin's decision was made easier by the fact that Citroen's grasp on the makes' title was stronger when Harri Rovanpera retired and left Freddy Loix as the highest-scoring 206 in sixth place. Loeb was fastest on the first two stages, but failed to make a serious dent in Solberg's lead. Tommi Makinen took an emotional third place in his last WRC drive, edging out Colin McRae in a final-day shoot-out for the final podium spot between two of the sport's biggest names. McRae's efforts weren't helped by a puncture on the last stage.
Despite retiring with engine failure yesterday, Renault driver Brice Tirabassi won the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, defeating Suzuki's Salvador Canellas.
555 Subaru World Rally Team
Technical: Both Subaru Impreza WRC2003s ran reliably throughout the third and final leg of the event.
Sporting: Petter Solberg's success on this event confirmed him as Norway's first ever World Rally Champion. Solberg throttled back through the first two stages of the day - allowing Sebastien Loeb to close to 32.5 seconds, but he was back on it for the rally's last test, posting fastest time as he put everything into the stage which confirmed his status as the world's best rally driver. Makinen took the final podium position on his last drive in the FIA World Rally Championship and in the process helped ease Subaru clear of Ford, to take third place in the manufacturers' series. It was fitting that the four-times world champion's best result of the season came on the final round - although Rally Great Britain remains one of the few WRC rounds that he has been unable to win.
Petter Solberg said: "I just can't believe this. It's amazing, absolutely amazing. I haven't been thinking about the championship, just driving my stages and now we're here and we are the champions. The rally has gone so well for us, it really has - for the whole team this is a fantastic result."
Tommi Makinen said: "I'm so happy for Petter, it's great for him and everyone here. It's nice for me to make the podium on the last rally. I've enjoyed the event today, but it would have been better if the rain had come yesterday and let everybody have some good sunshine on the final leg."
David Lapworth said: "What a fantastic result and an excellent, calculated drive from Petter - he kept his cool all the way through. It's amazing when you think that he only won his first round of the world championship 12 months ago."
Technical: Both Citroen Xsara WRCs of Sebastien Loeb and Colin McRae have run without technical fault through the final leg. Carlos Sainz slid off the road on the third stage of the event on Friday.
Sporting: Sebastien Loeb pushed harder through the first two stages, but when it became clear that he wasn't going to be able to make the sort of inroads required to knock Solberg off the top spot, he knew that second place in the rally and the runners-up spot in the championship beckoned. McRae maintained his fourth place through Sunday's three stages. The Scotsman played the team game to help Citroen lift the manufacturers' title - setting aside his personal goal of beating Makinen to the final podium position. McRae's only problem through the final leg was a puncture on the final stage in Margam Park. McRae and co-driver Derek Ringer elected to stop and change the offending front-right deflation.
Sebastien Loeb said: "It has been a difficult rally for me. I had to try to drive fast for myself but steady enough to stay on the road for the team. It has not been easy, but I'm here, second in the championship and first for the team."
Colin McRae said: "I slowed right down today - it was very important for us to get to the finish and help Citroen win the title - which is a great achievement for the team. The rally has been okay, but once Carlos went out on the first day it was clear that we had to get some points which was always going to make it difficult to attack and try to get past Tommi. There was a rough section with lots of really sharp stones in the earlier part of the last stage; it must have been there that we picked it up."
Ford Motor Company
Technical: Francois Duval was the only remaining official Focus RS WRC03 left after the first-leg departure of both Markko Martin and Mikko Hirvonen.
Sporting: Duval's run through the final leg was without incident and his fifth place finish ensured the team scored points on every rally this season. In fact Ford now has to go back to this rally in 2001 as the last time it failed to score a point on a round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Duval once again enjoyed the second run at the Rheola and Margam Park stages on the final day.
Francois Duval said: "Getting to the finish of this event was my target for this week. We've done it and I've learned more about one of the toughest rallies in the season. The car was very good for me today, no problems at all."
Marlboro Peugeot Total
Technical: The sole remaining Peugeot of Freddy Loix ran without any technical trouble today. Harri Rovanpera retired with a transmission problem on the first stage this morning, while Marcus Gronholm damaged his steering beyond repair on SS3.
Sporting: This was a difficult final day for the only team capable of denying Citroen its glory in the manufacturers' championship. Rovanpera's retirement made it all-but impossible for Peugeot to make it for titles on the trot. Loix continued to make good progress with his understanding of what makes the 206 tick. His effort to catch Ford's Francois Duval for fifth place were dealt a serious blow on the opening stage of the day, when he spun the Peugeot, stalling the engine in the process. From then on he drove to make sixth place without any problems.
Freddy Loix: "The spin was really annoying. I dropped about 20 seconds, without that the time would have been good and we could have put more pressure on Francois. I wasn't on a big attack after that, there was quite a lot of fog around which made it difficult. I am happy with the progress I have made with the car on this rally. For me it has been lilke a really good test."
Corrado Provera said: "We are disappointed to lose the manufacturers' award, but we cannot keep winning forever. I was hurt last year when people complained about us winning all of the time. All we did last year was our job, this year the rest of the teams have done their job and Citroen has done it better than us. Look at the results, though: we have won four rallies, Citroen has won four and Subaru has won four - in my opinion it would be wrong to say that Citroen has dominated this year."
Technical: Didier Auriol's Skoda Fabia WRC ran reliably through leg three, while Toni Gardemeister slid off the road and into retirement on the first stage this morning.
Sporting: Auriol finished the event in 11th place following a trouble-free final day in his Fabia. The Frenchman had found the right set-up for his car mid-way through leg two and kept it for the rest of the rally, managing to pull in two manufacturer points for the Czech Republic team at the same time. Gardemeister was behind his team-mate after a torrid two days of Rally Great Britain. The Finn had been hit by a plethora of problems, including engine, suspension and transmission. His event came to an end when he slid off late in the first run through Rheola.
Didier Auriol said: "I was happy with the times which we were putting up later in the rally, it was nice to show that we had the pace. What the team needs now is development and time to get the car working like we know that it can. This rally isn't one of my favourites, but I have to say that I enjoyed it."
Toni Gardemeister said: "We went off the road on a right-hand corner. It was really difficult to get it going again, we would have needed maybe 100 spectators to push the car back onto the road. Even if we'd managed that then with the damage to the left-front corner, maybe we wouldn't have been able to carry on. It's a disappointing finish to a pretty disappointing event for us. We had many problems earlier in the rally, but when the car was okay - it was working quite well."
While Brice Tirabassi won the FIA Junior World Rally Championship in his Renault Clio, Suzuki won the rally, courtesy of Daniel Carlsson's Ignis. The Swede's job was made slightly easier when his chief rival for the category - Kris Meeke - rolled his Opel Corsa on the penultimate stage. The leading non-official World Rally Car was the Peugeot 206 of Manfred Stohl, who just edged fellow 206 driver Roman Kresta for seventh position.