Petter Solberg brought his Subaru Impreza WRC2003 home to win the twelfth round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship in Ajaccio today.
The Norwegian had crashed his car heavily at the pre-rally shakedown on Thursday lunchtime, but the Subaru team worked through the night to re-prepare the car in time for the Friday-morning start. Solberg repaid their efforts in fine style with a 36.6-second victory at the end of the third day of competition in Corsica, completing a fantastic come back.
Solberg's only threat through the final day had been Ford's Francois Duval, but today's stages proved difficult for the Belgian, who had never driven them before. Eventually Duval was caught and passed by Carlos Sainz who made an inspired choice of slick tyre for the final two stages of the day.
Sainz's efforts net him the lead in the drivers' championship – a series which Richard Burns has headed since Rally of Turkey in March. Burns' eighth place drops him to third in the championship – three points behind Sainz – equal point with Solberg, who is second for difference in victories.
The next round of the FIA World Rally Championship starts in Catalunya in just four days time.
Both Subaru Impreza WRC 2003s ran without any mechanical problems throughout the final leg of the event.
Solberg controlled proceedings from the front this morning. His overnight lead of 17.9 seconds had mushroomed to 36.5 seconds after the first loop of stages, allowing the Norwegian to take a more measured approach to the final two. Solberg's third win of the season moves him up second in the drivers' championship, just three points off the lead.
Tommi Makinen's day didn't start too well, the Finn feeling unwell for the first two stages. He also suffered a puncture in the first of the day's four stages. Those troubles aside Makinen maintained his grip on seventh position and managed to take 22.9 seconds out of sixth-placed Gilles Panizzi through the final test of the rally.
Solberg said: "This is an amazing result. I can't say enough for the team and everybody who has worked so hard to achieve this. Sitting in my hotel room on Thursday morning, this seemed such a long way away. I didn't really believe that I could actually take part in this rally never mind win it. It's fantastic. Now I am right back in with the championship fight. It would be nice to have a wet Catalunya Rally for us, as the Pirellis really work so well in wet and changeable conditions. Having said that, Pirelli came up with a very good tyre in the dry on this rally – look at the first day, we were close to the others when there was no rain."
Makinen added: "My stomach was really bad this morning, I did not feel so good at all. On the stages, we were quite lucky with the puncture – the tyre did not go off the rim. If it had, then we could have had some problems as we were in quite a fast part of the stage at that time."
Team boss David Lapworth concluded: "I've never seen anything like this in all my time in rallying. If you could have seen the state of the car on Thursday afternoon, you wouldn't have believed it could be here. The team has done a brilliant job, as have Pirelli, coming up with some new tyres for us after a two-day test in the week prior to the rally."
meanwhile the Xsara WRCs ran without any problems through the final leg.