Solberg pips Loeb at the post in Welsh thriller A month after SÃ©bastien Loeb collected his third consecutive win in Germany, Petter Solberg has responded by snatching a dramatic last-minute success in Cardiff this weekend, his third in a row...
Solberg pips Loeb at the post in Welsh thriller
A month after Sébastien Loeb collected his third consecutive win in Germany, Petter Solberg has responded by snatching a dramatic last-minute success in Cardiff this weekend, his third in a row in Britain's round of the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship. His memorable clash with the Citroën-Michelin driver in the Welsh forests ended with the Subaru driver stealing top spot on the penultimate test. Despite its understandable disappointment after having led the event practically from the start, the Citroën-Michelin team can take comfort in the fact that the Rally GB result consolidates its lead in the chase for the Manufacturers' title, while Loeb continues to dominate the Drivers' standings.
A truly nail-biting showdown in the forests of south Wales has provided WRC fans with one of the 2004 campaign's closest contests, with outgoing champ Petter Solberg pipping current Drivers' championship leader Sébastien Loeb (Citroën-Michelin) at the post to record his third Rally GB win in succession. In doing so, the Subaru driver equals the record of rally legends Erik Carlsson, Timo Mäkinen and Richard Burns, although only Finn Hannu Mikkola has ever succeeded in winning on four occasions what many still refer to as the 'RAC Rally'.
The Norwegian clinched victory on the penultimate stage of the rally to win by the narrow margin of 6.3 seconds after Loeb had spent practically the entire event in front, even though the Xsara driver had at no time been able to relax, even for an instant. Indeed, the often treacherously wet conditions - remarkably similar to those encountered when this round was held at its traditional November slot! - kept both duellers on their toes throughout.
Citroën Sport has no explanation why Loeb suddenly dropped the 12 seconds in as many kilometres that enabled Solberg to squeeze ahead at the end of the 'Margam' stage, but the French team will be perfectly aware that the final result allows it to strengthen its command at the top of the Manufacturers' championship. Loeb himself goes into the next round in Sardinia, in two weeks time, with a healthy lead of 28 points in his bid to secure the Drivers' crown with four rallies remaining. And although the Frenchman has proved this year that he is one of the fastest drivers around, whatever the event, two of the rounds to come will be on asphalt, the surface type that first saw him spring to international acclaim in 2001.
The duel at the sharp end stole much, if not all of the limelight away from the fight for the other positions which, it has to be said, was essentially settled when early challenger Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot-Michelin) was eliminated after clipping a rock on the morning of Day 2. That incident allowed Ford-Michelin's Markko Märtin to finish on the podium despite having to cover three stages on Saturday with reduced power following a turbo valve failure. Even so, the Estonian finished comfortably clear of Carlos Sainz (4th, Citroën-Michelin) and his own team-mate François Duval (5th), who posted some top stage times after losing ground on Day 1 because of brake problems.
In addition to losing Grönholm, Peugeot-Michelin had the misfortune to see Harri Rovanperä (6th) drop well out of contention practically from the outset following trouble with his gearbox.
No victory, but Michelin tyres very much on the pace in typical Rally GB conditions!
Every situation covered. Despite the British round's date change and predictions to the contrary, the conditions in Wales proved as wet and slippery this weekend as they generally are when the event is organised at its traditional November date, so no change there then. But that didn't prevent this year's Rally GB from turning out to be a fantastic, world class contest between two outstanding drivers.
The challenge here for Michelin was always going to be ensuring its partners had a sufficiently broad selection of tyres to cover the huge variety of possible conditions, and the fact that its partners were able to include the 8 'minus' (soft) compound Michelin Z in their package for the wet conditions encountered on Friday and Saturday morning effectively gave them a competitive solution for every type of situation. Indeed, it was this option that helped Sébastien pull clear over the early stages of Legs 1 and 2.
Meanwhile, had the conditions been as warm, dry and hard-wearing as many had been predicting upstream of the event, Michelin's partners would also have had the option of choosing the Michelin GW, but by the time the drivers had to register their individual preferences with the FIA, that option was clearly no longer necessary.
Countdown. Second place for Sébastien Loeb in Wales allows the French man to maintain his strong lead at the top of the provisional Drivers' World Championship as well as that of Citroën-Michelin in the Manufacturers' standings. With four rounds of the 2004 calendar remaining, including two on asphalt, Loeb's margin amounts to 28 points (a victory is worth 10 points), while that of his team is 38 points. A maximum of 72 Manufacturers' points can still yet be claimed (the equivalent of four one- two finishes from four).
Next round: Rally d'Italia (October 1st-3rd 2004)