Thanks to another strategically perfect drive, Subaru's Petter Solberg claimed the third WRC victory of his young WRC career in Australia today. After two days of tactical driving, during which he traded stage wins with his closest competitor, ...
Thanks to another strategically perfect drive, Subaru's Petter Solberg claimed the third WRC victory of his young WRC career in Australia today. After two days of tactical driving, during which he traded stage wins with his closest competitor, Citroen's Sebastien Loeb, Solberg pulled out all the stops today, to snatch the lead by a decisive margin and secure maximum points and the top spot on the podium. Fellow 555 Subaru team driver Tommi Makinen finished sixth to net more points for Subaru. After 10 rounds, Subaru move up to third in the Manufacturers' series, while Petter Solberg is joint second in the Drivers' title race, just seven points behind current leader, Richard Burns.
SS21 0906hrs Bannister North (24.81km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 13:11.9
With four stages left to decide the classic battle at the head of the field, Solberg and Loeb were immediately on the attack this morning. In damp, but not waterlogged conditions, the Subaru Impreza driver took the first stage win by 5.7 sec from Loeb, who was second. The stage-winning margin was enough for the pair to swap places and for Solberg to take the lead overall, albeit by a slim 0.6 of a second. Burns meanwhile was fourth quickest, to hold his comfortable third place overall. The top ten altered significantly overnight, when Markko Martin was excluded by event Stewards for a rule infringement. After winning both runs through the Super Special stage last night, Markko's car was found to be carrying a 5-6kg rock in the boot, which contravened FIA regulations regarding ballast. The Estonian claimed the rock had been placed in the spare-wheel well to wedge the wheel in place after the standard ratchet-strap system failed. Martin's exit from fourth overall ignited a furious battle for his position from those behind. McRae, Sainz and Makinen were all in the running, and although McRae held on to fourth after the stage, Sainz and Makinen were both within five seconds. SS21 brought problems for 11th placed Didier Auriol, when his Skoda Fabia WRC developed a hydraulic system fault. Using a back-up manual transmission and without the assistance of active differentials, the Frenchman dropped around 30 seconds.
SS22 0944hrs Bannister South (34.16km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 16:00.1
Another stage and another swap at the top. Loeb won it, but Solberg estimated he lost nine seconds after a couple of mistakes; he slid wide on a muddy corner and later had to recover a fifth-gear half-spin. But despite the time lost, he was still second-quickest and trailed Loeb's new lead by 1.3 sec. Burns continued his consistent run to hold third, while in the battle for fourth Sainz closed the gap on McRae. Makinen, who had made his tyre choice on the expectation of wetter conditions, wasn't able to pressure Sainz as he had planned, but remained firmly in the battle. Auriol continued to lose time and was a full minute slower than his Skoda team-mate Toni Gardemeister. This was enough for the young Finn to move into 11th and drop Didier to 12th.
SS23 1230hrs Bannister West (24.39km)
Fastest time: Solberg (Subaru) 12:22.6
On Leg 2 Petter said that he was holding a little extra power in reserve, and as the rain fell on the penultimate stage, Solberg was true to his word and wound his Subaru and his Pirelli tyres to the limit. With a third WRC victory in sight, the Norwegian decimated the opposition and won the stage with a time five seconds faster than anyone else. The show of strength was enough to pull back nine seconds from his French sparring partner, Sebastien Loeb, and re-gain the overall lead by a margin of eight seconds. While many competitors were concentrating on consolidating their finishing positions, McRae, Sainz and Makinen continued to battle it out for fourth. On this occasion McRae was second on the stage, hotly pursued by Sainz and Makinen, so the trio remained in the same places overall.
SS24 1308hrs Bannister Central (33.45km)
Fastest time: McRae (Citroen) 18:10.0
In a strategic final stage performance, Petter Solberg threaded his Impreza WRC through the last 33kms of the rally to finish 29 sec ahead of Loeb and score a decisive third WRC victory. Loeb lost some time with a stall on a slow-speed corner, but was eighth-fastest to take second, while Richard Burns took things steady to hold on to third. In full rain conditions, Colin McRae was the stage winner, with his Citroen team-mate Sainz right behind. It was a good scrap, but in the end the Scot held his nerve to keep fourth. More good news for Subaru in the Production Car World Rally Championship, as Martin Rowe and co-driver Trevor Agnew won the category in a Group N Subaru Impreza.
David Lapworth, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "It's probably been the most fantastic battle in the WRC for years, it's been such a close gap, never more than a few seconds between Petter and Sebastien, it's like watching a 10,000 race with a sprint on the last lap. Petter has driven brilliantly and it's all come together after a lot of hard work. With Pirelli we had the edge when it got slippery, and the team has done a faultless job to deliver a trouble-free car. Tommi has also done a good job for the team, which helped improve our position in the Manufacturers' Championship."
Petter Solberg: "I'm very happy! It was a big battle again. I hate going into the last stage leading, and much prefer being slightly behind and going for it, but today has been great. It's good for me to have these type of fights, and I feel I'm a better driver after the last two events. I've felt calm the whole rally but it's just a fantastic feeling now, a great win for the whole team, including Pirelli, and it closes things up in the Championship. This is my third victory, but Tommi has 24, so I've still along way to go! I think I'm better on tarmac, and I'm keen to show it on the next few rallies and fight for the win again. Above all though, this has been a special event for Subaru, and I'd like to give the victory to Possum Bourne. Everyone in the team has good memories of Possum, he was a special guy, and I know he'd have been proud of us."
Tommi Makinen: "It could have been a better result for us without hitting the bank yesterday and making the wrong tyre choice earlier today, but it was important for me to finish my last rally Australia with good points. Petter has put in a fantastic performance and I hope to support him on the next few rallies. The car has been excellent here on the gravel, it will be interesting to see where we are on the tarmac."
News from Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager: "Today both Petter and Tommi have used a selection of compounds from the Pirelli P-Zero KM range of gravel tyres. Both drivers also selected a number of different cuts to combat the slippery conditions. Out in Finland our new construction of gravel tyre proved itself beyond doubt, and we're delighted with both the result today and the way in which the Pirelli Subaru partnership is working."
The Next Rally
Round eleven of the 2003 WRC takes teams back to Europe and the Italian round of the series in San Remo. The first of three Mediterranean tarmac rallies, San Remo is a classic event, with drivers battling it out on the roller-coaster mountain roads of the region. Famed for its hairpin bends and narrow stages, the rally is a real test of driver skill, and a marked contrast to the character of the last two gravel events. The rally starts on Thursday 25th September.