Peugeot driver Freddy Loix has finished sixth on the Rally Great Britain, scoring driver and manufacturer points on his Peugeot debut.
The Belgian was drafted in as a last-minute replacement for the unwell Richard Burns, and did an excellent job despite only testing the car for half a day before the rally started. Loix is one of Peugeot Sport's contracted drivers for the 2004 season.
Today's final three stages of the last round of the 2003 World Rally Championship consisted of 89 competitive kilometres through south Wales. Unusually for Great Britain, conditions remained dry throughout all three days of the event.
Freddy said: "I always knew this would be a very tough rally, as I had so much to learn. The 206 WRC is very competitive, but it is not so easy to drive quickly straight away, as it is very complex. I was learning all the time, but I think I only found a good feeling towards the end of the rally when I went on the softest possible suspension setting. This has been a really useful experience, because it means that I can come to Peugeot next year with a good idea of how the team operates."
Freddy's team mates Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera were not so lucky, as both were forced to retire. Gronholm went out of the rally after SS3, following damage to his front wheel after hitting a log. Harri was holding an excellent fifth place this morning, but a transmission component failed on SS16 and left him stranded.
Harri said: "It's a real pity as it was going well and I think we would have finished and scored some points. I heard a noise from the gearbox about two kilometres into the stage, and finally it failed eight kilometres later. This hasn't been an easy rally for me as it took a while to find a good feeling. But I'm hoping for much better things next year!"
Four Peugeots finished within the top 10 in Britain, thanks to some excellent performances from privateer drivers. Manfred Stohl was seventh in a customer-specification 206 WRC, and he was followed home by the similar cars of Roman Kresta in eighth and Juuso Pykalisto in ninth.
Peugeot Sport boss Corrado Provera commented: "We came into this rally with strong hopes of making up the five points we needed to become manufacturers champions. But straight away our chances were damaged by Richard's illness, which meant that we lost one of our best drivers and the person who knew best the limits of this rally. Then Marcus went off on the third stage, and we realised that our chances of winning the title were lost. I'd like to congratulate Citroen who have beaten us because they were better, more consistent, and more reliable. The manufacturers' title remains not far away from us in France, which makes it easier to take back next year! As for the drivers' title, Marcus won it last year in a French car, and I'm sad that now it is leaving France. But I promise we will be back...."
The World Championship starts again in Monte Carlo next year, from January 23-25.