Solberg clinches Rally Mexico victory

Solberg clinches Rally Mexico victory

Most World Rally Championship teams dream of being competitive on the first outing with a new WRC car. But for Petter Solberg and Subaru, the debut of the Impreza WRC2005 couldn't have been better: the Norwegian ace trounced the opposition ...

Most World Rally Championship teams dream of being competitive on the first outing with a new WRC car. But for Petter Solberg and Subaru, the debut of the Impreza WRC2005 couldn't have been better: the Norwegian ace trounced the opposition convincingly, taking seven of 14 stage wins and beating Marcus Gronholm's Peugeot to the finish line by nearly 35 seconds.

Petter Solberg and Phil Mills.
Photo by Subaru World Rally Team.
"I'm so pleased that we came through with the rally," said Solberg. "There are still things to do (to the car) and with 13 rallies left, it's still a long way. I'm very pleased -- it's almost a perfect beginning for the new car."

The Norwegian veteran, the 2003 WRC champion, led Rally Mexico from the first stage, and never looked back. Three stage victories on Friday gave him a comfortable 20-second lead after the first day. Thereafter he was able to pace himself to aa 25-second lead after the second day, and then 34.5 seconds at the finish.

"To get a win with the old car in Sweden and another with the new one here is a great feeling," Solberg continued. "For sure there's still more to come from this car, but I'm very happy with the progress we've made already."

Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen.
Photo by Enrique Gijon.
Gronholm and teammate Markko Martin took second and third for Peugeot, giving the French team the WRC manufacturers' championhip lead for the first time in a long time.

"For the team, it's good," commented Gronholm. "Everybody knows I can win and now they know I can come second - but this doesn't mean I will stay second all year ..."

Gronholm did take three stage victories and Martin one, but with the team's conservative strategy, plus some difficulties with the 307 WRC's brakes on Saturday, the duo were never a serious threat to Solberg's lead after the first day. Gronholm was over 30 seconds off the pace in the end, and Martin more than a minute.

"Yesterday was very tough," Gronholm explained. "In order to solve our brake problems, we had to change pads after every stage. So I was going very slowly today, not even trying to catch (Solberg)."

Martin, also driving cautiously, did not suffer from as serious brake problems as his teammate, and after Francois Duval retired, was able to keep his eye on the points finish.

Markko Martin and Michael Park.
Photo by Enrique Gijon.
"It's been good all through the weekend and I am happy that the team has achieved second and third in the rally and now lead the Manufacturers' Championship. It is a good thing that we are improving the speed of the car but there is still a lot to be done yet."

With Martin's consistency in the three first rallies of the year, he holds second place in the points standings, just a point adrift of Solberg. Gronholm is in fifth.

The comeback story was that of Sebastien Loeb's run: after ending Friday in 14th position, the defending WRC champion clawed back up to fourth place today in his Citroen Xsara WRC.

The event started disastrously for Loeb, as a cracked suspension piece produced excessive camber for his right rear wheel, quickly shredding all the spare tires the Frenchman had available. Loeb lost over four minutes in the ordeal, limping through the day's stages with three proper wheels and one bare rim.

As of the start of the final leg, he was 4:49 behind Solberg, and some 37 seconds behind Toni Gardemeister (Ford) and Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi). But Loeb drove like a man possessed, and on the rally's final stage, the 44 km-long Alfaro-El Establo SS14, he threw caution to the wind to take stage victory by 33.1 seconds over Rovanpera and claim fourth place overall.

S?bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena.
Photo by Citro?n Sport.
"When I saw I could get the places back, I pushed hard and we were coming back very fast," Loeb explained. "I honestly drove the final stage as though victory depended on it. It was a near-perfect run, perhaps one of the best of my career! Finishing 4th allows me to stay on the heels of the championship leaders and also keeps Citroen in the frame.

"The car cannot be perfect every time. I am very happy with the result and the battle for the Championship is never finished -- in the end, everything is possible."

Rovanpera ended up 7 seconds behind Loeb, and Rovanpera, the championship points leader coming into the rally, was a further 7.5 seconds off the pace.

Rovanpera was seven seconds adrift of Loeb and 7.5-seconds in front of Gardemeister to take fifth. Rovanpera placed second in both of the final stages ran today. Gardemeister was fourth best in SS13 and third fastest on SS14.

Another Ford finished seventh behind the Ford factory drivers, Andy Warmbold wrapping up his stellar run in Mexico with a fine performance today.

Giles Panizzi gave Mitsubishi two cars in the points with an eighth place overall, while Armin Schwarz came home ninth for the debut rally of the Skoda Fabia WRC05.

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team