After a sensational finale to the Rally of Great Britain, the last round of the 2002 FIA World
Rally Championship, 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg has claimed the first victory of his WRC career.
With the Drivers' Championship secured earlier in the season by Marcus Gronholm, and the Manufacturers' Championship already wrapped up by Peugeot, all eyes were on the battle between two of the WRC's most talented young drivers - Ford's Markko Martin and Subaru's Petter Solberg. In a tense struggle for the top spot, the pair traded stage wins over the last four stages, but it was the Subaru star, and Welsh co-driver Phil Mills, that had the edge. In dry and bright weather conditions, 27-year-old Petter delivered a mature and calculated performance to overturn Martin's overnight advantage and take a momentous win. His Estonian rival finished 24.4 seconds behind in second, with the final podium spot going to Carlos Sainz, a further 1 minute 11.3 seconds back in third.
Petter's win not only brought him a hugely popular WRC victory, but by claiming the maximum 10 drivers' points he also secured second place in the 2002 Drivers' Championship, ahead of far more experienced drivers. It was a fitting end to the Norwegian's season, which has seen him consistently improve throughout the year, notching up 35 stage wins and five podium finishes in the process.
Petter's Subaru team-mate, Tommi Makinen finished the rally in fourth place. The four-time World Champion put in a consistent drive at the wheel of his Impreza to claim another three Drivers' Championship points and take eighth place overall in the Drivers' Championship. In the Manufacturers' Championship, the 555 Subaru World Rally Team finished third. Another piece of good news for Subaru came today when Benoît Rousselot won the final round of the French Tarmac Championship. He helped the Japanese manufacturer clinch the French Championship title for both WRC and Group N classes.
SS14 0741hrs Resolfen 2 (54.69km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 28:49.4
Solberg launched his final assault on the Rally of GB in style as he stormed through the first stage, the very fast and long Resolfen, to finish 2.8 seconds ahead of the field and clinch his sixth stage win of the rally. Negotiating the mixture of fifth and sixth gear straights and twisty corners with expert precision, the Norwegian smashed overnight leader Markko Martin's time and, at the end of the test, topped the overall standings by more than 20 seconds. Peugeot's Richard Burns was second fastest reducing the overall gap between himself and Carlos Sainz in third to 6.9 seconds. A good stage too for Richard's team-mate Harri Rovanpera. His troubles from yesterday behind him, the Finn was third fastest and moved up the overall standings from eleventh to eighth. Markko Martin was fourth while Tommi Makinen was eighth fastest in his Subaru Impreza WRC 2002.
SS15 1043hrs Rheola 2 (27.95km)
Fastest time: Martin (Ford) 15:49.6
Markko Martin answered Solberg's speed on SS14 by charging through the second Rheola run 4.5 seconds faster than his rivals. However, it was not enough to take back the number one spot and Petter Solberg continued to lead by 12.8 seconds. Also on a charge, Peugeot's Richard Burn's was second quickest and moved up to third overall, dislodging Sainz to fourth. However, with 43.1 seconds remaining between himself and Markko Martin in the overall standings, the Brit looked unlikely to be in a position to challenge for the top spot in the closing stages. Makinen was fourth fastest and maintained fifth overall, lying between the Ford's of Sainz and McRae.
SS16 1159hrs Margam 1 (27.93km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 16:12.3
Used as the final stage of Rally GB since 1997, Margam has seen a range of rallying emotions and this year proved no different. On the first of two runs through the notoriously slippery route, two of the top ten crews were forced into retirement including the Citroen Xsara of Sebastian Loeb and Richard Burns in his Peugeot 206WRC. While Sebastian retired 10km from the finish with damage to his right suspension wishbone, third-placed Richard Burns left the road close to the end of the test and was unable to continue. With ninth placed Rovanpera the only works 206WRC remaining at the end of the test, it was rapidly becoming a rally to forget for the Peugeots. Looking to the leaders, Solberg again went fastest and extended his overall lead to 21.3 seconds. With just one more stage to run, the 27-year-old was looking good to claim his first ever WRC win. Markko Martin was second and good run by Makinen saw the Finn finish third fastest to maintain fourth position overall.
SS17 1406hrs Margam 2 (27.93km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 16:06.1
Slashing more than six seconds off his previous run through Margam, Subaru's Petter Solberg cruised through the final test of the 2002 FIA Championship to finish 3.1 seconds ahead of the field, take his eighth stage win of the event, claim his first ever WRC victory and clinch second place in the 2002 FIA Drivers' Championship. Not bad for a weekend's work! Markko Martin was second fastest, the same position that he secured overall, while Tommi Makinen was third quickest to finish fourth. A good run by Peugeot's Harri Rovanpera saw the Finn finish fourth fastest and move two places up the overall order from ninth to seventh.
Petter Solberg:. "I can't believe it, it hasn't sunk in yet. I will tell you, it has been hard work getting here but it's been worth it. I have so many people to thank -- the team has been amazing and during today Tommi has been on the phone between the stages giving me encouragement and lots of support. It was a good fight with Markko, he's a very good driver and I'm expecting a lot of competition from him next year. But what can I say, it's just incredible. I'm absolutely lost for words -- I'm so very, very happy. My brother Henning has been phoning me throughout the day, he's been very supportive and told me that he's been doing donuts in my Subaru back home in Norway! Forget all the bad luck, I hope this win will be the first of many. "
Tommi Makinen:." At the end of the rally, the car was running much better compared to the start when it wasn't so easy. Looking at the year, for me I think that it's been one of learning and we now know what we need to do in terms of preparation for next season. We're ending the year with a positive feeling. Petter did a really good job and I'm really happy for him."
David Lapworth, 555 Subaru Team Principal: "What a fantastic end to the year. Petter absolutely deserves this win. It's been a tough season, but in the last few months we were already feeling confident about next season -- today's result means we will now go through the winter even more determined to prove something in 2003. We've had some low points this year but I think today's result shows that the whole team has pulled together and put in an incredible effort. You can see from the top six that Pirelli definitely gave us an edge at this event and Tommi, Petter, everybody involved with the team have dug deep and shown that Subaru remains a force to be reckoned with."