Solberg wins, Loeb and CitroÃ«n-Michelin inch closer to title Petter Solberg led this weekend's inaugural Rally Italia Sardinia from flag to flag to secure his third WRC win in as many rounds. But although the Subaru driver's success keeps him...
Solberg wins, Loeb and Citroën-Michelin inch closer to title
Petter Solberg led this weekend's inaugural Rally Italia Sardinia from flag to flag to secure his third WRC win in as many rounds. But although the Subaru driver's success keeps him in the running for the championship, a safe 2nd place on the Mediterranean island for series leader Sébastien Loeb takes him a step closer to the 2004 Drivers' title. The Citroën-Michelin star was joined on the podium by his team-mate Carlos Sainz, a result which not only boosts the French make's chances in the Manufacturers' stakes but which also means that Michelin is now certain to take its seventh consecutive Manufacturers' title since 1998.
The instant action kicked off on Friday morning, Petter Solberg knew his only chance of keeping his title chances alive was to win the WRC's latest newcomer, Rally Italia Sardinia. Accordingly, the Norwegian attacked from the very first special stage to open up an early advantage that would carry him over the next three days of competition to take the trophy at Sunday afternoon's finish in fashionable Porto Cervo.
But with the battle for the 2004 Drivers' crown entering its final phase, it soon became clear that Sébastien Loeb was more than happy to settle for the silver medal in Sardinia instead of risking throwing away the 8 valuable championship points that have consolidated his position at the top of the table. With three rounds remaining, including two on asphalt (Corsica and Spain), the Citroën-Michelin driver only needs to accumulate 5 extra points (equivalent to one 4th place finish) between now and the end of the season to make sure of becoming Champion of the World.
Meanwhile, this weekend's result means that only two makes can still hope to take the Manufacturers' crown, namely Citroën and Ford, both of whom are Michelin partners. With Xsara WRC driver Carlos Sainz also securing his sixth top-three finish of the year, the odds appear to be firmly stacked in favour of the French outfit however, especially following the bitter blow suffered by the British-based team when a seemingly certain podium finish was snatched from Markko Märtin's grasp following terminal turbo failure on the final morning.
The Estonian wasn't the only top driver to hits problems in the Sardinian sunshine. Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot-Michelin) emerged as a realistic threat to Solberg by the end of Day 1 before turbo trouble dropped him to 19th overall mid Saturday morning and, although the Finn fought his way back up to 7th, his team's efforts were poorly rewarded when Harri Rovanperä was eliminated with gearbox problems.
Michelin secures its 7th consecutive Manufacturers' title with three rounds to go*.
A result that makes sense. Unsurprisingly, Sébastien Loeb, Michelin's best chance for success in Sardinia after Marcus Grönholm was delayed on Day 2, was happy to settle for 2nd place which takes him a step closer to the Drivers' world title.
Meanwhile, for the seventh year running, Michelin is certain of claiming the Manufacturers' crown* which, mathematically, can now only be won by either Citroën, who have topped the championship since June's Acropolis Rally, or by Ford who led during the early part of the season.
Aimé Chatard, Rallies Manager, Michelin Competition. "From the very early part of this rally, we were not fully satisfied with our performance over this complex patchwork of different surfaces. Despite finishing 2nd and 3rd, which means we are now certain of winning the Manufacturers' title*, we intend to use the data collected by the members of our R&D team who were here all weekend to win this event when we return next spring."
Frédéric Henry-Biabaud, deputy director, Michelin Competition. "We are naturally very pleased that we are sure of winning the Manufacturers' title*. We now seem to be in for a thrilling finale in the Drivers' championship between the current leader Sébastien Loeb and outgoing champ Petter Solberg. It's looking very positive for Sébastien and we are looking forward to the next round on the asphalt of Corsica in two weeks time."
(*) Subject to final confirmation of the results by the FIA