Petter Solberg can already taste the World Rally Championship title, as he has surged ahead of Sebastien Loeb on the second leg of the Rally of Great Britain. The Norwegian finished second in the Drivers' Championship last year to Peugeot's ...
Petter Solberg can already taste the World Rally Championship title, as he has surged ahead of Sebastien Loeb on the second leg of the Rally of Great Britain.
The Norwegian finished second in the Drivers' Championship last year to Peugeot's superman, Marcus Gronholm. This year Solberg has been in the hunt again and came into this weekend's season finale one point behind Citroen's works drivers, Loeb and Carlos Sainz.
Sainz had an off road excursion in on SS3, ending his chance for the drivers' championship, and settign the stage for a Solberg-Loeb duel.
Today, Solberg swept all eight stages in South Wales placing himself in the catbird seat, with a 41.2 second lead over Loeb as they enter the final leg tomorrow. "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."
SS14 almost saw the undoing of Solberg's lead when he hit a pothole and damaged his Subaru's steering. He did win the stage in the end, but was quite shaken by the incident. "We were so lucky. I thought we had lost everything - the wheel, the whole front corner. That was so lucky."
His French rival lost valuable time on three stages, the first being the SS10 Crychan 2 where he finished third, 5.6 seconds behind Solberg. The SS13 (Margram Park 1) saw the Citroen driver finish a dismal fourth, 6.5 seconds behind the winner Solberg. Finally, the long 43.09km SS14 was where 9.5 seconds increased the overall gap between the two rivals.
Prior to the final stage, the third of the 2.45km Cardiff Super Specials, Loeb remarked, "When I push I can be as fast as Petter but it's very difficult to catch him. We will try to keep this rhythm, try to finish and see what happens."
The previous day's battle between the two appeared today to ebb with the possiblity that Loeb is driving a pace to ensure that Citroen wins the manufacturers' championship.
"I am thinking about Citroen and the manufacturers' award," stated Loeb. "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.
"Petter is driving very quickly. Honestly, even if I went flat out, I think I would find it difficult to overhaul him. With the gap that separates us now, I can only play a waiting game. There is still a long way to go, and recent rallies have shown us how quickly an apparently stable situation can change."
On his chances for the final leg, Solberg commented, "Tomorrow, I still can't afford to take things easy, but I'm actually feeling quite calm. I think I'm driving at about 90 per cent, so I do have more in reserve; I'm trying not to think too much about the finish. I spoke to Fred Gallagher today and he gave me some good advice, to relax and have fun driving, and I'm just concentrating on doing that."
In the final podium position is four-time World Rally Champion Tommi Makinen in his final WRC event. Makinen has struggled with his Subaru in 2003, but is looking to finish well in this rally before he hangs up his driving gloves for good.