Continuing yesterday's remarkable performance, Petter Solberg delivered another strategically perfect drive to maintain his overnight lead and win the rally, the fourth victory of his WRC career. Winning by a margin of 36.6 seconds, the Norwegian...
Continuing yesterday's remarkable performance, Petter Solberg delivered another strategically perfect drive to maintain his overnight lead and win the rally, the fourth victory of his WRC career. Winning by a margin of 36.6 seconds, the Norwegian claimed a maximum ten points in both the Drivers' and Manufacturers' Championships, and now lies just three points off the lead of the Drivers' contest. Not only did his victory mark an impressive 38th WRC win for Subaru, but it also underlined the competitive gains made by the Pirelli/Subaru partnership on asphalt. After a trouble free rally, Tommi Mäkinen finished seventh to collect more points for Subaru.
Aside from the WRC, there was more good news for Subaru from the Tour de Corse, when Martin Rowe, driving an Impreza WRX STi, clinched victory in the 2003 Production Car WRC competition, of which Corsica was the final round. Subaru achieved a clean sweep of the PCWRC podium, with Toshi Arai finishing second and Stig Blomqvist third.
SS13 0812hrs Penitencier Coti-Chiavari (24.24km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 15:19.0
Confident that the threatened rain would not materialise, all the leading WRC competitors choose to run on slick tyres with no additional cuts for the first two stages. As predicted, the rain held off, and despite damp, dirty sections through the first 12km, Solberg and Mäkinen's Pirelli slicks provided them with superb grip in the difficult conditions. An exact repeat of last year's SS13, the test took crews through a narrow, winding ascent, and across a fast, wide section, before concluding with a sequence of very tight hairpins to the finish. Loeb was fastest, with Solberg, on a charge to maintain his overnight lead, second quickest. At the finish there was no change to the overall top three, but Solberg and Duval increased their advantage over third-placed Sainz. More problems for Ford's Markko Martin. Suffering with a gearbox problem, the Estonian was forced to contest the stage using the manual change system and dropped 20 seconds. Mäkinen was fifth fastest, despite complaining of a stomach upset. After the finish crews moved directly to the start of SS14.
SS14 0855hrs Pont De Calzola - Agosta (31.81km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 19:47.2
Despite trailing the leaders by almost ten minutes, Loeb put in another blistering time in his Citroen Xsara to take his second stage win of the day. But all eyes were on the blue Subaru of event leader Petter Solberg. Negotiating the difficult conditions of the gruelling Pont De Calzola test, the Norwegian was again on the pace and posted the second fastest time to extend his overall lead to more than half a minute. With 56km left to run, and the damp conditions predicted to continue, he was looking good for a strong finish. Duval managed only eleventh fastest, but maintained overall second place, albeit by the slimmest of margins. Only 0.1 seconds separated him from Sainz at the finish. A good run from Gronholm saw the Finn snatch overall fourth from McRae, while Mäkinen was seventh fastest to maintain the same position overall. Martin continued to be dogged by his gear change problem and lost further time when he stalled his Focus' engine twice at the start. After the finish, crews returned to Ajaccio for a scheduled service.
SS15 1147hrs Penitencier Coti-Chiavari (24.24km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 15:25.4
With Corsica's unpredictable weather conditions continuing to dominate, tyre selection was critical on the second pass through Penitencier. With the top three separated by 36.6 seconds, one wrong choice could have won or lost a position overall, and Citroen's gamble to run Carlos Sainz on slick tyres didn't come off. Struggling for grip on the test's rain-sodden asphalt ascent and twisty downhill section, the Spaniard managed only eleventh fastest, finishing the 24km test 10.5 seconds slower than Duval and 12.5 seconds slower than overall leader, Petter Solberg. Loeb was again fastest, while Gronholm was second to maintain fourth overall. SS15 saw Martin's miserable rally come to an abrupt end when he crashed his Focus about 1km from the start. Both he and co-driver Michael Park were uninjured in the incident, but retirement was instant.
SS16 1230hrs Pont De Calzola - Agosta (31.81km)
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 19:56.4
As heavy drizzle descended over Pont de Calzola, tensions were high as the remaining competitors started the second pass through the long 31.8km test. Running on intermediate Pirelli tyres, Petter held his nerve through the mixture of dirty hairpin corners, smooth tarmac and abrasive twisty sections to complete the stage, claim overall victory and notch up the fourth WRC win of his career. His achievement also marked Pirelli's first asphalt victory since Tommi Mäkinen claimed gold in Monte Carlo 2002. In a nail-biting finale for second overall, it was Carlos Sainz who eventually had the edge. The Spaniard finished 15.7 seconds ahead of the Belgian to clinch second, while Duval had to settle for third.
David Lapworth, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "Quite simply, it's a fantastic result. And one the whole team can be very proud of. When you consider the state the car was in on Thursday - and you really had to see it to believe it - to have pulled a win out of the bag here is a huge credit to both the team and Petter and Phil. After the disappointment of Sanremo, we've proved that things can turn around completely, and the Championship is once again wide open. There's a terrific team spirit now, and a new level of optimism ahead of Catalunya."
Petter Solberg: "I almost don't have words to describe it - it's definitely been the most special win for me this year! The way I'm feeling now is just incredible. Everyone in the team has worked so hard to put me here, and to go from such a low on Thursday to such a high now is almost unbelievable. Once the rally got underway, things went completely according to plan and I have a really good feeling now about the rest of the season. I've already proved my performance in Wales and we've shown here that anything can happen on tarmac."
Tommi Mäkinen: "Things improved steadily for us throughout the rally and we're very happy about our performance today. We seem to have found a very good set-up now for these conditions and this should really help us in Catalunya. Petter's done a great job over the last few days and he really deserves this fantastic win. We're happy to have collected some points for Subaru and will be looking for another points scoring finish in Catalunya next week."
News from Pirelli
Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager: "We're delighted with this result. Both Tommi and Petter have been very happy with the performance of their Pirelli tarmac rally tyres. Both Petter and Tommi selected a mixture of Pirelli PZero RX and RE pattern tyres, enabling Petter to overcome a deficit of 46 seconds to win by more than 36 seconds today. This categorically proves the performance of the PZero and Subaru package. With just a few days until Spain we will continue to work flat-out to get the best results possible on both the remaining rounds."
With two Mediterranean asphalt rallies run back-to-back, the penultimate round of the 2003 World Rally Championship, Rallye Catalunya, starts on Thursday 23 October. The all-asphalt rally is based at the coastal town of Lloret de Mar and features sweeping and smooth, high-speed stages in the countryside to the north.