First there were four. One got ill, then there were three. One dropped out on SS3, and now there are only two contenders for the 2004 crown: Petter and Seb. At the end of the first day of competition at the Rally of Great Britain held South...
First there were four. One got ill, then there were three. One dropped out on SS3, and now there are only two contenders for the 2004 crown: Petter and Seb.
At the end of the first day of competition at the Rally of Great Britain held South Wales, Petter Solberg holds an eight second lead over Sebastien Loeb in the World Rally Championship final round. Solberg holds a one-point edge over Loeb for the crown.
"It's been a good day, a very good day," Solberg said. "I've had a good fight with Sebastien [Loeb] and I think it's going to stay that way for the rest of the rally."
Peugeot's Richard Burns took ill last week and was then unable to make a run for his second WRC title, thus, making this year's chase a three-way battle.
The day actually began Thursday late night in the town of Cardiff for the 2.45km Super Special, the first of four victories for the Subaru driver who finished the day by securing the top spot in the Cardiff 2 Super Special.
Sebastien Loeb came to the season finale with the overall championship lead shared with his teammate, Carlos Sainz. Both Citroen drivers had the added pressure of the manufacturers' title resting on their shoulders.
At the end of the final stage, Loeb commented, "Now, I have to stay on the road, which is a bit more difficult. But my job is to make sure that the team wins, and I will do my best to achieve this the best I can."
With Markko Martin finishing second in the first stage in his Ford Focus, Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm in third, and Sainz back in fifth with Loeb finishing eighth, Solberg had breathing room going into stage two held on Friday morning after a bit of rest.
Loeb answered the early challenge with the victory in stage two, the Citroen driver took back the championship edge.
But stage three, the Trawscoed, was the downfall of Sainz, as the two-time World Champion driver went off the road in a third-gear corner. He was unable to get his Citroen back on the road, and retired from the competition.
Gronholm's final event also ended early when the 2003 World Champion hit a rock with his wheel. The Peugeot driver hobbled to the end of the stage, but announced his retirement earlier when a policeman stopped his car from driving to the service point.
Again, Loeb held the edge with the win in SS3, one of his three victories today. Solberg finished second and Martin was third.
Stage four was the downfall for the Ford driver Martin as he too feel out of competition whilst sitting in third overall.
Solberg came back to take victory on the fourth stage and regained the championship points lead. Loeb was second followed by Tommi Makinen in third and Colin McRae in fourth. Subaru now held first and third overall with Citroen in second and fourth. Gilles Panizzi was fifth overall in his Peugeot.
The longest stage of the day was the Resolfen 1 at 43.09km and the winner was ... Solberg who now had built up almost an eight second lead over Loeb. The championship became a "Petter/Seb" competition with neither driver giving ground and both at a fast competitive paced. Both the Subaru and the Citroen showed signs of minor damage but nothing significant.
Stage six was won by Loeb and Solberg was second. Loeb gained one-point six seconds on the overall lead and the championship. McRae finished third and with Makinen lost time even with a fourth position for the stage, McRae was now just ten seconds out of third overall to Makinen.
The closeout of the today's first leg was the Stage 7 Super Special Cardiff 2. Loeb's slipped to fourth overall leaving the win to Solberg and gave him an eight second lead. Makinen was second on the final stage followed by McRae.