Petter Solberg guided his Subaru Impreza WRC2003 to victory on the Cyprus Rally, which finished in Limassol this afternoon.
The final loop of six stages once again took crews north of the rally's base and into the Troodos mountains. Solberg started the day with a 25.3-second lead over Peugeot's Harri Rovanpera. By lunchtime service, that gap had mushroomed to 47.6 seconds with Solberg fastest on two of the three stages. The fight was effectively over from then. Solberg throttled back over the re-run tests - where Rovanpera suffered a broken driveshaft - to win his second FIA WRC victory by more than four minutes.
Rovanpera's problem almost dropped him back into the grasp of third-placed Sebastien Loeb. After the 18th and final stage of the event, the Citroen
driver was just 2.8 seconds behind. Loeb led a Xsara WRC trio, with Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz claiming fourth and fifth respectively. Ford's Mikko Hirvonen
rounded out the top six in his 2002-specification Ford Focus RS WRC.
Solberg's car ran without any problems through leg three. Tommi Makinen retired yesterday after SS10, out of time after stopping for 28 minutes to fix his car in the sixth stage.
Solberg was delighted to take his second win in the FIA World Rally Championship - his first came on Rally Great Britain last November. He had taken time out of Rovanpera on the first loop of three stages this morning, building his lead to almost 50 seconds. From then on he was happy to stroke the Impreza WRC 2003 home through the rally's last three stages to claim the team's first win of the season.
''This is brilliant! It's a fantastic result for everybody involved,'' said Solberg, ''Everything has gone to plan for the last two days. We had this plan for Greece, it didn't work there, but it did work here. I drove pretty carefully through those final three stages, listening for any noises on the car. It was perfect, like it has been all weekend. Everybody has been working so hard for this result, I would like to thank everybody involved in this victory.''
David Lapworth, Subaru's team boss, added: ''We've worked very hard for 12 months now and have focused on being strong on this type of event. Here we've been able to combine the reliability and speed of the car and Petter and Phil [Mills]'s performance has been one of the coolest that I can remember. We've brought the car forward now and have more things planned for the second half of the season. We feel very well prepared.''
At Peugeot meanwhile Rovanpera's car broke a front-left driveshaft in SS16. Marcus Gronholm retired with transmission trouble on SS6, while Richard Burns' car overheated and stopped on the road section following the tenth stage.
Rovanpera decided against risking his second place in an all-out effort to beat Solberg. The Finn drove sensibly to get the car to the finish, his best result of the year to date - and collected eight points for the Peugeot team at the same time.
''I wanted to get second place, so there was no big attack today,'' said Rovanpera, ''This has been a very hard rally and we've had some problems going right up until the finish. When the driveshaft broke with two stages still to go, I thought we weren't going to make the finish, but we are here. I feel unlucky and lucky at the same time. We had two wheel-drive for the last couple of stages and we were dropping a lot of time. It was hard work to the finish, but it's good to get second.''