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Maiden win for Solberg in Wales

17 November 2002


Subaru driver Petter Solberg has scored his first victory at FIA World Rally Championship level on the closing round of this year's series, the Rally of Great Britain.

The Norwegian and his Welsh co-driver Philip Mills fought past their close rivals Markko Martin and Michael Park on this morning's first stage, and they fended off the Ford pairing thereafter to notch up their breakthrough victory. Ford's double world champion Carlos Sainz scored his fifth podium finish of the year in third overall.

Yet again, the Welsh weather was kind to crews today, as clear blue skies remained over the south of the country until the finish in Cardiff this afternoon. But the slippery conditions underfoot still caught out a few of the competitors, including outgoing world champion Richard Burns, who slid off on the penultimate stage, and Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, who was forced to retire with suspension damage on his Citroen.

Both Solberg and Tommi Makinen enjoyed reliability from their Subaru Impreza WRC2002s today. Makinen did complain, however, about a switch to Pirelli's wider KM tyre for the day's opening (long) stage, Resolfen. Solberg also had to downtune his engine in the closing kilometres of the final stage after concerns about its health.

Solberg got his wish this morning though, when some of the day's first and longest stage, Resolfen, was shrouded in fog. The Norwegian attacked overnight leader Martin with a vengeance and it paid off, as he barged past the Estonian to claim a useful lead after just one stage. He admitted that he took things too easily on the next stage, where Martin recouped some of his lost time, but Solberg regrouped to score fastest time in the day's penultimate stage and at least allow himself a relatively comfortable run through the last test on his way to his and his Welsh co-driver Philip Mills' maiden WRC rally win. The 10 points also promoted Solberg to second in the drivers' championship.

His team-mate Makinen claimed fourth at the finish, although he had benefited from Burns' late retirement. Makinen himself had to fight off Colin McRae today and despite concerns about his tyre choice in Resolfen, the four-times world champion did enough to keep the Scot at bay and score three manufacturers' points for Subaru.

''I just can't believe it!'' said Solberg. ''I have to thank everyone in the team - all the crew, mechanics and engineers - and also Phil, of course, who's been terrific. I had a late scare when I had to preserve the engine in the final few kilometres but in the end, we still set the fastest time! To get second in the championship after such a long year and so many hard events is terrific as well - I really just want to enjoy the moment.''

Co-driver Phil Mills added: ''It's an incredible feeling. Any win is special but the first one is always extra sweet and to do it on home soil, only an hour and a half from my house, is pretty amazing. Petter's driven superbly on so much of this year's championship but he's had bad luck - I'm just glad it's all come good and we've broken the duck. And to finish second in the drivers' championship is fantastic.''

Subaru World Rally Team Principal David Lapworth concluded: ''We knew we had quite a good package for this event and once Marcus was out yesterday and it was between Petter and Markko, we were optimistic that he could come through for us. We're obviously pleased, but now we have to start really hard work to get Petter and Tommi as good a chance as possible to score more wins in 2003.''

At Ford the Focus RS WRC02s of McRae, Sainz and Martin ran well. Mark Higgins, meanwhile, complained of a faulty intercom that had squeaked badly during much of the day's first test, Resolfen.

Martin confessed to being too cautious in the foggier stretches of Resolfen this morning and his approach cost him dearly, since it allowed Solberg to barge past and set up a useful lead for the last three stages. Martin retaliated strongly in Rheola to claim back seven seconds from his Norwegian rival but then in the penultimate stage, he failed to find the right rhythm again and handed the same margin back to the leader. Martin thus had to settle for second overall at the finish, narrowly missing out on his first WRC rally win.

Sainz, meanwhile, felt that he could wring no more performance from his car this morning and it looked as though the Spaniard was going to miss out on a fifth podium finish of the year when Burns moved past him and into third. But when the Briton slid off on the penultimate stage, Sainz was handed back the place.

McRae tried to close in on Makinen this morning but the Finn held off the 1995 world champion, who thus finished fifth on his final outing for the Ford team. Ford's fourth entry, Mark Higgins, benefited from the retirements of Loeb and Burns as he finished in sixth. He'd spent much of the final day experimenting a little with his car's set-up in an attempt to find the same speed as yesterday.

''Of course I'm a little disappointed not to have won but I've learnt an awful lot in the last few days about how to deal with situations like this,'' said Martin. ''We have to take the positive points out of here and we've set a really fast pace with Petter without making any real mistakes, on a rally where a lot of the top guys have gone off. Petter drove at 100 percent and I was at 99 percent - ultimately, that was the difference today.''

Team-mate Sainz continued: ''It's been a hard rally, as always, although I think the weather has maybe helped because we haven't had rain or fog like usual. I'm sure that Markko will win a rally in the near future. He and Petter both drove well here.''

Over at Peugeot meanwhile Burns enjoyed good reliability from his Peugeot 206 WRC, but team-mates Harri Rovanpera and Gilles Panizzi weren't so lucky. Rovanpera lost hydraulic pressure in his car's differentials towards the end of Rheola and had to complete all of Margam Park 1 with the same problem, and Panizzi lost his car's brakes halfway through this morning's first stage, Resolfen.

Burns looked as though he was going to at least score a podium place on his home round of the championship after he set second-fastest time in Resolfen this morning. That pace was enough to move him past Sainz and into third overall. But in Margam Park 1, the penultimate stage of the rally, the outgoing world champion was caught out by a slippery braking area and he put the rear end of his 206 off the road and down a bank. He was unable to regain the stage and was forced to join team-mate Marcus Gronholm in the retirement bin. Gronholm had gone out yesterday in SS10, while leading the rally by over a minute.

Rovanpera meanwhile lost time this morning with a loss of hydraulic pressure in his 206's differentials, but he still managed to inch past Juha Kankkunen and Freddy Loix in the last stage to finish seventh and score a manufacturers' point for Peugeot. Gilles Panizzi had brake problems this morning but still finished in 11th.

''It was my mistake,'' admitted Burns. ''I was trying pretty hard and I just got caught out under braking. It's been really quite slippery on the roads, despite the fact that it's sunny overhead. Of course I'm disappointed, but it looks like I'll be fourth in the championship instead of second and maybe that's a better reflection of our season, because it hasn't been the best one. However, I'm already looking forward to getting back in the car for testing and challenging in 2003.''

Team-mate Rovanpera added: ''This has been such a hard rally. We've had so many little problems that have cost us time - even this morning, when we were making progress, the hydraulics went so we were left with rear-wheel drive and rear braking only. So after everything that's happened, I'm glad just to get points for the team.''

The two remaining Hyundai Accent WRC3s of Freddy Loix and Juha Kankkunen have enjoyed a troublefree final leg.

Loix and Kankkunen knew they would struggle to keep Rovanpera at bay today but when the Finn's Peugeot hit problems, it gave the Belgian and his Finnish team-mate a fighting chance. Ultimately, however, the 206 was just slightly too quick for the Accents - Kankkunen finished ninth, with Loix claiming eighth, just one tenth of a second behind Rovanpera. But his result still earned Hyundai a manufacturers' point, lifting the Korean marque to fourth in the makes' series.

''Today was all about keeping position,'' commented Loix, ''and making sure we got to the finish, because I've retired from too many rallies this year. I'm glad that we had a good, clean run on this event and once we made a few changes to the suspension yesterday, I've been happy with the car as well. It gives us some encouragement for next season, because it's clear that we're making progress in terms of speed and reliability. It's great to get the result for Hyundai that lifts us up to fourth in the manufacturers' championship - all of the guys in the team deserve it.''

The third Accent of Armin Schwarz was halted yesterday morning - an exhaust-related problem caused a fire at the rear of the car and although the former European champion was able to extinguish the flames and return to service, Hyundai's team doctor believed that the German had inhaled too much smoke for him to continue. He retired after SS8.

The Skoda Octavia WRCs of Toni Gardemeister, Kenneth Eriksson and Roman Kresta have all been reliable during the third and final leg.

Skoda's three drivers started today determined just to reach the finish, and they all achieved their goals. Gardemeister benefited from the retirements of Loeb and Burns as he bagged tenth, while Eriksson and Kresta finished 13th and 15th respectively.

Gardemeister said: ''I don't think there was much more speed in the car than we showed this weekend. For today, we softened the suspension a little bit to try to get more grip, because that's been our biggest problem all rally. It did improve things, but then I had to take some of the rougher sections quite steadily when we were driving through stages for the second time. I would have liked to have got a top-10 finish at the end of the year but there just hasn't been a big enough retirement rate for that.''

At Citroen the sole remaining Xsara WRC driver Loeb had not reported any significant mechanical problems today, but in the penultimate stage of the event he was forced to retire after a front-left wishbone gave way due to impacts with rocks.

Loeb had hoped to keep hold of a points finish, even though he was passed by Colin McRae on this morning's first stage. But with just one stage remaining, the Frenchman suffered a late retirement when the left-front wishbone broke on his Xsara WRC.

''We did some good work with the car on this event and I think we have made it much easier to handle on conditions like we have seen in Wales,'' noted Loeb. ''I'm disappointed not to finish, of course, but I know I can look forward now to working with Colin (McRae) next year to improve the car and make it more efficient.''

The other Xsara of Thomas Radstrom retired in SS8 when his car holed its sump and lost its engine oil.

None of the works Mitsubishi Lancer Evo WRC's made it to the finish - nor for that matter did they make it into leg three. Justin Dale, who was covering for the injured Alister McRae was the first to go. He went out on SS2. Team-mate's Francois Delecour and Jani Paasonen following suit yesterday, both crashing in SS10.

Other notable retirements included MotoGP champ Valentino Rossi (out in SS2) and former F1 driver Mark Blundell (out in SS5).

Of the other entries Spanish driver Daniel Sola claimed the FIA World Junior Championship in the best possible style, by winning the category outright on the final round, the Rally of Great Britain. Sola and his co-driver Alex Romani reached the Cardiff podium this afternoon almost three minutes clear of their nearest rivals after three days of intense competition that slashed through the Junior WRC field to leave only six finishers.

Niall McShea was second in his Opel Corsa, while Giadomenico Basso [Fiat Punto] came third and Janne Tuohino [Citroen Saxo] fourth. Jussi Valimaki [Saxo] was fifth and the final JWRC finisher was Andrea Dallavilla [Saxo]. Finally in the Group N category, the honours went to Oscar Svedlund, who finished 11.4 seconds in front of British Touring Car ace James Thompson.



Rally statistics - Leg three:

Starters: 53 crews (41 Group A and 12 Group N) started this morning.

Retirements: Loeb (F), Burns (GB) and 12 other drivers.

Today - Sunday 17 November: Leg 3 started from Cardiff at 05h30 and covered 489.09km, including 138.50km on four special stages.



Stage by stage summary - Leg 3:

SS14 Resolfen 2 (54.69kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 28m 49.4
2. Burns (GB) Peugeot 28m 52.2
3. Rovanperä (FIN) Peugeot 29m 08.7

Leaders after SS14:
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 2h 42m 20.9
2. Martin (EE) Ford 2h 42m 41.2
3. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 43m 12.9

SS15 Rheola 2 (27.95kms):
1. Martin (EE) Ford 15m 49.6
2. Burns (GB) Peugeot 15m 54.1
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 15m 57.1

Leaders after SS15:
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 2h 58m 18.0
2. Martin (EE) Ford 2h 58m 30.8
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 2h 59m 13.9

SS16 Margam 1 (27.93kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 16m 12.3
2. Martin (EE) Ford 16m 20.8
3. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 16m 21.2

Leaders after SS16:
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 3h 14m 30.3
2. Martin (EE) Ford 3h 14m 51.6
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 3h 15m 49.9

SS17 Margam 2 (27.93kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 16m 06.1
2. Martin (EE) Ford 16m 09.2
3. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 16m 11.6

Leaderboard in Cardiff after SS17:
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 3h 30m 36.4
2. Martin (EE) Ford 24.4
3. Sainz (E) Ford 1m 35.7
4. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 2m 37.5
5. C.McRae (GB) Ford +3m 01.5
6. Higgins (GB) Ford +5m 01.9
7. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot +5m 15.8
8. Loix (B) Hyundai +5m 15.9
9. Kankkunen (FIN) Hyundai +5m 29.1
10. Gardemeister (FIN) Skoda +6m 02.9

Junior WRC leaders after SS17:
1. Sola (E) Citroen 4h 03m 06.6
2. McShea (GB) Opel +2m 59.3
3. Basso (I) Fiat +3m 19.6
4. Tuohino (FIN) Citroen +4m 07.6
5. Valimaki (FIN) Citroen +5m 27.8
6. Dallavilla (I) Citroen +6m 20.2


Final rally statistics:

Event: The rally covered 1636.14km, including 390.57km on 17 special stages (including seven run twice and one used three times). All stages were on gravel roads closed to other traffic.

Starters: 85 crews (65 Group A and 20 Group N) started the rally.

Finishers: 38 crews (28 Group A and 10 Group N) finished the rally.

Stage winners:
Gronholm (SS2-3-5-6-8)
Martin (SS1-15)
Solberg (SS7-9-11-12-13-14-16-17)
Burns (SS10)
SS4 was cancelled due to spectator congestion.

Rally leaders:
SS1 Martin
SS2-SS9 Gronholm
SS10-SS13 Martin
SS14-17 Solberg


FIA World Rally Championships:

FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers (provisional standings after 14 of 14 rounds): Gronholm (FIN) 77, Solberg (N) 37, Sainz (E) 36, C. McRae (GB) 35, Burns (GB) 34, Panizzi (F) 31, Rovanperä (FIN) 30, Mäkinen (FIN) 22, Martin (EE) 20, Loeb (F) 18, others.

FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers (provisional standings after 14 of 14 rounds): Peugeot 165, Ford 104, Subaru 67, Hyundai 10, Skoda 9, Mitsubishi 9.

FIA Junior World Rally Championship (after 6 of 6 rounds): Sola (E) 37,Dallavilla (I) 29, Tuohino (FIN) 15, Basso (I) 14, Caldani (I) 13, Duval (B) 12, McShea (GB) 6, Schelle (D) 5, Galli (I) 5, Feghali (RL) 4, Rowe (GB) 4, others.

FIA Production Car World Championship (after 8 of 8 rounds, this event not counting): Singh (MAL) 28, Sohlberg (FIN) 26, Ferreyros (PE) 20, Fiorio (I) 16, Arai (J) 12, Trelles (ROU) 12, Iliev (BG) 9, Rowe (GB) 11, others.



Next event in 2003 - January 23 - 26: Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo, Monaco, Monte Carlo.





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