Fourth for Solberg in Wales confirms Subaru third in Championship
After a long season, a final brace of four stages on the last day of competition in the 2008 World Rally Championship confirmed both fourth position on Wales Rally GB for Petter Solberg and Phil Mills, and third position in the WRC Manufacturers' Championship for the Subaru World Rally Team.
Though shorter, the day was no less tricky and really favoured the brave and the battle at the front reached fever pitch. At minus five degrees Celsius, it also boasted the coldest temperatures seen during the rally. Fortunately none of the stages were interrupted or shortened by the prevalence of ice on the roads. Grip was as unpredictable as ever as ice took hold of every stage and cars skittered and scrabbled to find any grip as they swung between heavy braking and hard acceleration.
"Petter and Phil drove well this weekend and we saw them deliver some very encouraging stage times in incredibly tricky conditions" said David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal. "It is a shame to have just missed out on a podium at home, but nevertheless it marks the end of a year in which we have seen the performance of our new car consistently improving and there are yet more positives we can take from this weekend into the winter break as we continue our preparations for next season."
The traditionally season-ending Welsh finale brings the curtain down again on a long and tough season for SWRT halfway through which came of course the launch of Subaru's first totally new World Rally Car in eight years.
Petter and Phil rounded off the year with an encouraging note. "We have had some good stages and done a lot of very positive split times so it's been quite a good weekend and I'm pretty happy" said Petter Solberg. "I tried hard but this morning was full ice so we were on the limit definitely. We just had to settle for fourth though as we just didn't have the grip to push on the ice. I tried some small adjustment on the dampers before service but it was worse so I had to go back again for the afternoon.
"We knew yesterday that if there was ice this morning, we would not have a chance, but if it was normal gravel or mud, it would have been ok because that's where we have improved the car since Japan. On the fast sections I'm as fast as everyone else, just not on the ice. But we are definitely moving right. There are still a few things to sort out, but now the team have some time until next season so I'm sure we'll return strong and able to really fight."
There is not much of a Christmas rest for the team. With only a short drive north to the team's headquarters in the town of Banbury, UK, the team and cars will return this evening and get straight back into preparations for the 2009 WRC season which kicks off in Ireland on 30 January.
Wales Rally GB brought to a close the 2008 World Rally Championship and so the teams now enter into a well-deserved winter break. That said, there are cars to build and still plenty of work to do. Either side of testing commitments, the drivers will spend some time away to recharge after a hard season and come back recharged in 2009. The first rally of next season is Rally Ireland, which debuted in the series at the end of last year. It runs on asphalt roads in the town of Sligo from 30 January to 01 February, so the weather is likely to be wet, cold and icy; just like GB! Nineteen stages, including a spectator test in Donegal Town will take competitors through 366.94km of competition.