After a difficult rally for the Subaru Team, Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen crossed the finish line of the French Tour de Corse in fifth and tenth place respectively. Although both Impreza WRC's ran without fault all weekend, and both drivers...
After a difficult rally for the Subaru Team, Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen crossed the finish line of the French Tour de Corse in fifth and tenth place respectively. Although both Impreza WRC's ran without fault all weekend, and both drivers collected Championship points, the result was disappointing following three consecutive rally wins for Subaru. Ford's Markko Martin won the rally, while a second place for Sebastien Loeb was enough to secure the 2004 WRC Drivers' title and the 2004 WRC Manufacturers' title for Citroen.
SS9: 0833 Penitencier Coti Chiavari-Pietra Rossa 1 (24.24km)
Following overnight torrential rain, conditions on the first stage of the final leg were damp, but drying as crews made the first pass through the 24km test from Coti Chiavari. Negotiating the stage's initial narrow, twisty climb, it's wide, fast mid-section and final series of hairpin bends, Subaru's Petter Solberg was fastest in his Impreza to take his first stage win of the event. Marcus Gronholm was second fastest and Ford's Markko Martin third, but there was anguish for his team-mate Francois Duval. Having been locked in an intense battle for the overall lead with Martin, the Belgian suffered an engine failure in his Focus 7km from the start line and retired. It was a bitter blow for the young driver who had been on course to match his career-best second position finish. Mikko Hirvonen was fifth fastest, finishing 9.7 seconds off the winning pace and ahead of Sebastien Loeb and Peugeot's Freddy Loix. After the finish, crews drove 11km north to the start of SS10.
SS10: 0916 Pont de Calzola-Agosta 1 (31.81km)
A stage of contrasts, the first pass through the test from Pont de Cazola included a smooth, wide, open road, followed by a narrow, twisty, abrasive asphalt section that was littered with gravel. Following his team-mates retirement in the previous test, Martin started the damp stage with a 1 minute 11 lead and, remaining on the pace, was fastest to take his fifth win of the event. At the finish, his overall lead was more than a minute and a half. Subaru's Solberg set another competitive time to finish second fastest, while Carlos Sainz was third. Despite commenting that, for him, the asphalt event had been one of the worst of his WRC career, Marcus Gronholm was fourth fastest, while Citroen's Loeb was fifth. With just 56km of the event remaining by the finish and well-positioned in second place overall, the Frenchman was looking good to secure the 2004 World Rally Championship Drivers' title on home soil with two WRC rounds remaining. Mikko Hirvonen was sixth fastest through the test and, after the finish, crews returned to Ajaccio for a 20-minute service.
SS11: 1212 Penitencier Coti Chiavari-Pietra Rossa 1 (24.24km)
As the rain held off, conditions were mostly dry for the second pass through the 24km stage from Coti Chiavari. Setting an average speed of 96.91kph, Martin was fastest, with Gronholm second and Sainz third. Subaru's Solberg was fifth fastest, but there were difficulties for Mikko Hirvonen. Cutting a corner in his Subaru Impreza WRC, the Finn broke the front-right damper 6km from the start and was forced to complete the stage at a slower pace - he lost 30 seconds to the leaders. He was twelfth fastest, but remained in tenth position overall. There were no leading retirements and, after the stage was complete, crews moved to the start of the final stage.
SS12: 1255 Pont de Calzola-Agosta 1 (31.81km)
The tension mounted as crews started the final test of the event, the repeated Pont de Calzola stage. Enjoying a trouble-free run on the second pass through, Martin was fastest to claim the fourth WRC win of his career. In front of a jubilant home crowd, Frenchman Sebastien Loeb cruised through the final, stage to cross the line in second position overall and claim the 2004 WRC Drivers' title. His team-mate Carlos Sainz was third and, between them, the Citroen duo notched up enough points to secure the 2004 WRC Manufacturers' title for Citroen. Solberg was fifth fastest to claim the same position over all, while Hirvonen was eleventh fastest to finish in tenth. Fastest Stage Time: Martin (Ford) 19:08.0
"Obviously I'm disappointed that the title race is over but that's just how it is. We've shown this weekend that we have a lot of work to do before we are truly competitive in these conditions. Sebastien's a good champion and I'm pleased for him. His team has done a good job and it's well deserved. We've had some good battles this year and, fair do's, he's the real champ this time. But, even though the title may be decided, you can be sure I'm going to go out and do my best on the last two events."
"Well, I think overall this rally has been a good learning experience for me. The conditions have been tough, but I now feel much more at ease with the car and the tyres on this surface. There's still lots of work to do, but I'm hopeful that we can put some of what we've learned to good use in Catalunya."
Team Principal, David Lapworth:
The weather conditions made our work and that of Subaru very difficult in finding the right match between car set-up and tyres. This last Leg where Petter won a stage has none the less showed that we have been able to capitalise on the experience gained in the last two days and that allows us to approach the next rally in Catalunya feeling optimistic."