Norway's Petter Solberg continues to lead the way in this 14th and final round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Subaru driver - who won this rally 12 months ago - also remains in a potentially title-winning position with Citroen's...
Norway's Petter Solberg continues to lead the way in this 14th and final round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Subaru driver - who won this rally 12 months ago - also remains in a potentially title-winning position with Citroen's Sebastien Loeb in second place. Solberg's only drama came on the final forest stage of the day when he hit a pothole one kilometre into the second run at Resolfen, damaging the suspension. The only other driver who arrived in Cardiff with a chance of lifting the title was Carlos Sainz and the Spaniard slid off the road on the second stage yesterday morning - setting up a straight fight between Solberg and Loeb. Today has been a relatively straight forward day for most of the top ten, with large gaps appearing between most of the crews, they are finding themselves driving to maintain position - unwilling to risk everything in an all-out effort to make up time to the driver ahead. The one fight which has gripped the large crowds lining the stages north of Cardiff has been between Tommi Makinen and Colin McRae. The four-times world champion Subaru driver continues to edge the Scotsman ahead of the final leg's three stages. In the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, series leader Brice Tirabassi retired his Renault Clio with engine problems, while second-placed man, and the only driver able to deny Tirabassi of the crown, Salvador Canellas is still too far down the order to trouble after suffering gearbox problems aboard his Suzuki.
At the head of the FIA's 1600cc category on the rally, Suzuki driver Daniel Carlsson continues to lead Kris Meeke (Opel) with the pair enjoying a fascinating second-for-second duel through today's eight stages.
555 Subaru World Rally Team
Technical: Both Subaru Impreza WRC2003s ran reliably through leg two.
Sporting: Petter Solberg led throughout the second leg without any problems. Last year's winner maintained that there was still some pace in reserve if Sebastien Loeb - his chief rival for this year's FIA World Rally Championship drivers' crown - started to attack. Solberg's only minor trouble today was taking a tyre which was too hard for two runs through the Crychan and Halfway stages. Makinen's biggest drama on the second leg came when he almost missed the start of the 12th stage due to being stuck in traffic. He made it with a matter of seconds to go.
Petter Solberg said: "I'm happy with the way the day has gone, but the gap is still not big enough between me and Loeb. Anybody who knows rallying, knows that anything can happen on the stages. We should have gone for a tyre a little bit softer this morning, even on the second run at the stages it still wasn't working so well - there was a lot of mud around on the second loop. Usually during the rally and in the stages I am working with the set-up of the car - on things like the transmission - but today I am quite happy; I have just been driving, not making any changes. That was a big fright on the last stage, we were quite lucky after the shock- the car wasn't so happy on right-hand corners."
Tommi Makinen said: "The problem with almost being late for the start of the stage was not so good; okay we made it, but there was no time to get ourselves ready and prepared - we got there and had to go straight away. It's nice to have a good fight with Colin today, but the stages have been so slippery."
Technical: Colin McRae suffered fading brakes once again on the first two loops of stages this morning. Sebastien Loeb's car ran without mechanical fault throughout leg two. Carlos Sainz retired from the rally on the opening leg when he slid off the road.
Sporting: Loeb remained in second place throughout the day. The Frenchman was slowly dropping time to the leader and was unwilling to risk dropping points in the manufacturers' championship in an all-out pursuit of Petter Solberg. It was a similar story for McRae, he was wary that going off the road while chasing Tommi Makinen's third position would not go down well in the team.
Sebastien Loeb said: "I am still pushing as hard as I can. For the first four stages this morning, the tyres were too hard which wasn't so good, but apart from that everything has been good. I am thinking about Citroen and the manufacturers' award - I have to finish the rally to help the team. Running a little bit further back on the road has been quite difficult - the stages have been slippier than yesterday."
Colin McRae said: "I'm still losing time towards the end of the stages when the brakes are starting to fade a little. Apart from that it's not been a bad day. I am trying to push to get past Tommi, but it's not easy when we've been told that we have to make the finish of the event."
Marlboro Peugeot Total
Technical: Harri Rovanpera and Freddy Loix have not suffered any mechanical problems on the second leg, while Marcus Gronholm retired the third official car after breaking the steering, when he clipped a log on stage three yesterday morning. The Bozian-run 206 of Gilles Panizzi retired with propshaft failure ahead of the first stage of the day.
Sporting: Rovanpera has grown in confidence with the car throughout Saturday's stages, with his times improving throughout the day. His job was made slightly easier when fellow 206 driver Panizzi, retired on the way to the first run through Crychan this morning. Prior to that, the Frenchman had been within ten seconds of the Finn. Freddy Loix's rally was also improving - until he went the wrong way with the car's set-up for the two stages in Margam, where he said the car was too hard. Loix's increased comfort behind the wheel of the Peugeot became clear as he made his way past the private 206 of Roman Kresta and into eighth place.
Harri Rovanpera said: "The car is good, now I am pushing as hard as I can on the stages. It is still a little difficult at times because there is quite a big gap in front and behind of us; that's a little bit boring, it would be nice to be having a big fight with some of the other drivers."
Freddy Loix said: "Throughout the rally we have been making small changes and going in the right direction all of the time - until the two stages where the car was too hard. I'm happy with the way everything's going, but in some ways this is another test for me - I am still learning about what the 206 can do on the gravel stages."
Ford Motor Company
Technical: The Ford Focus RS WRC03 of Francois Duval - the only official Ford left in the rally - ran reliably throughout the second day of the event. Markko Martin retired on route to SS4 yesterday when the head gasket in his car went, while Mikko Hirvonen's 2002 car rolled early on leg one. The factory-backed Focus of Jari-Matti Latvala ran without mechanical fault today.
Sporting: Duval moved up one position, when Panizzi retired from the event. By the end of Saturday, the Belgian was facing a challenge from his countryman Freddy Loix, who was just half a minute behind him ahead of the final day's three stages. Duval's Focus ran well throughout the day, the only problem being a minor brake problem at the end of the final forest stage of the day.
Francois Duval said: "The day has been good for me. The transmission trouble has not come back today, everything has been okay until the end of SS14. It's a long stage and I was using the left foot for braking a lot of the time, I think this probably caused the pedal to go a little bit long. Again, I have enjoyed the second run through the stages - I've learned a little bit and made some changes to my notes, which has helped."
Jari-Matti Latvala said: "Our biggest problem was on the final stage in Resolfen; about 13 kilometres into the stage I braked too late and slid straight on. I had to find reverse which took time - okay I didn't stall the car, but I still dropped 20 seconds. I had been braking later and later and later, then this - without this problem the time would have been really good."
Technical: Didier Auriol's Skoda Fabia WRC ran without major mechanical fault today, while the sister car of Toni Gardemeister suffered further transmission problems into leg two.
Sporting: Auriol found a set-up for the Fabia which he was happy with and stuck to it. His start to the second leg wasn't ideal, however, when he spun in the Crychan stage which opened proceedings this morning. That aside, however, the 1994 champion's day was largely without incident. The same could not be said for his Finnish team-mate. Gardemeister's Fabia lost hydraulic pressure on the way out to the competitive action this morning, meaning he had to tackle four stages without any assistance from the hydraulically-controlled transmission. The team changed the gearbox at the lunchtime service halt - but the afternoon stages weren't much better for Gardemeister, with the wrong level of pressure going to the front differential.
Didier Auriol said: "The spin this morning was frustrating. It would have been okay, but we dropped the front two wheels over a hole and couldn't get the car turned around. We had to wait for some spectators to come and give us a push before we could get going again - this took maybe 30 seconds or so. Other than that, it's been quite okay."
Toni Gardemeister said: "I'm not so interested in this rally now. It hasn't been a good day. This morning it's so hard to drive the car without the diffs, no turn-in, hard to slow it down. It was not nice. Then this afternoon, we came close to rolling on one of the stages. I'm not really enjoying it. The last run through the forest stage was a little bit better but still the transmission wasn't perfect."
Suzuki's Daniel Carlsson leads the FIA Junior World Rally Championship into the final day. The Swede's lead over Kris Meeke was extended when the Ulsterman suffered a throttle body problem on his Opel Corsa through the final forest stage of the day. Fiat driver Mirco Baldacci remains third. Top non-official World Rally Car in the event remains Roman Kresta, the Peugeot man holding eighth overall - with fellow 206 privateer Manfred Stohl just one tenth of a second behind.