Solberg wins to claim his first championship

Petter Solberg became the 2003 World Rally Champion today when he capped off a repeat victory in the Rally of Great Britain. The Subaru driver won his first ever WRC event at the same venue last year and lead this year's event on each of the three legs.

Petter Solberg congratulated by his team at the final service.
Photo by Subaru World Rally Team.
Solberg clinched his first drivers' title by setting a fast pace while keeping his head on each stage - the Norwegian along with co-driver, Phil Mills won 13 or the 18 stages en route to the championship.

"Incredible," an excited Solberg exclaimed as he climbed out of his Subaru at the finish line. "I'm the best in the world."

And truly he is the best, especially in a year where the contenders were either tied for the top spot or just a mere point or two behind the overall leader, which changed multiple times during the season, perhaps a sign of not only equality within the teams but also the new point system put in place this year by the WRC governing body, the FIA.

Norway's first world champion took the title by just one point over Loeb. Carlos Sainz, who retired on the first day, did finish third in the championship with 63 points.

The Citroen driver was lucky in the fact that one other competitor in the overall standings withdrew from the event due to illness: Peugeot's Richard Burns never had the opportunity to try for his second championship title.

Petter Solberg.
Photo by Subaru World Rally Team.
"I just can't believe this. It's amazing, absolutely amazing," commented Solberg. "The rally has gone so well for us, it really has - for the whole team this is a fantastic result."

Subaru's team principal David Lapworth, added, "What a fantastic result, he (Petter) 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."

Sebastien Loeb added a touch of drama earlier today when he took the first of the final three stages trying to put pressure on the leader, "It's a big gap, because Petter has a good rhythm," the frenchman said after stage 16's win. "I will keep the pressure, because it will be difficult for him [Solberg] to concentrate with only two stages to the championship."

Loeb cut Solberg's cushion of 41.2 seconds to just 36 seconds prior to SS17 which the Citroen driver also won. Solberg maintained a 32.5 second lead for the final stage. To cap off his season, Solberg edged out Loeb by 11.1 seconds with the fastest time on the season finale last stage.

S?bastien Loeb.
Photo by Citro?n Sport.
Citroen's game plan was to knock Peugeot off the leaderboard for the Manufacturers' Championship. They came into the final event with a five point lead over the heavily favored French marque' who had won the title five times (1984, 86', 2000, 01' and 02').

"It has been a difficult rally for me," exclaimed Loeb. "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."

Loeb may have finished second in the rally and the world championship as a driver, but his final placement ensured the French team their first Manufacturers' title. Citroen ended the season with 160 points, ahead of Peugeot's 145 (in part due to retirements by their top teams this weekend), and Subaru finished third with 109 points.

Tommi Makinen.
Photo by WRC McKlein.
With Solberg and Loeb battling for first, many might have overlooked the tighter battle for third. Tommi Makinen and Colin McRae traded third and fourth overall throughout the event.

Subaru's Makinen finished third in his final WRC event; McRae, pushing hard to catch the Finn, had a tire puncture on the final stage in his Citroen, ending what was a great fight between the two veteran drivers.

"I'm so happy for Petter (Solberg), it's great for him and everyone here," Makinen said. "It's nice for me to make the podium on the last rally. I've enjoyed the event today."

McRae finished fourth and a valiant drive by Ford's Francois Duval in the final two days gave him fifth position. 2004 Peugeot team driver Freddy Loix was standing in for the ailing Burns gave Puegoet sixth in his WRC debut. "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," remarked Loix.