Petter Solberg wrote another chapter of history in the FIA World Rally Championship today when he scored his fourth win of the season to clinch the 2003 drivers' title – and the first for a driver from Norway.
Solberg took control of the rally on the fourth stage and was never seriously challenged over the last two and a half days. The Subaru driver controlled proceedings from the front – backing off a little this morning, but charging back to set another fastest time through the 18th and final stage of the day.
Solberg ended the event with a 43.6-second lead over runner-up Sebastien Loeb. Loeb's disappointment at missing out on the drivers' title was tempered slightly by the fact that Citroen
won the manufacturers' award in its first full season with the Xsara WRC.
When the day started out with foggy conditions in Rheola, Loeb was given the green light to push again and try to put Solberg under pressure. Frequelin's decision was made easier by the fact that Citroen's grasp on the makes' title was stronger when Harri Rovanpera retired and left Freddy Loix as the highest-scoring 206 in sixth place. Loeb was fastest on the first two stages, but failed to make a serious dent in Solberg's lead.
Tommi Makinen took an emotional third place in his last WRC drive, edging out Colin McRae in a final-day shoot-out for the final podium spot between two of the sport's biggest names. McRae's efforts weren't helped by a puncture on the last stage.
Both Subaru Impreza WRC2003s ran reliably throughout the third and final leg of the event.
Solberg's success on this event confirmed him as Norway's first ever WRC Champion. Solberg throttled back through the first two stages of the day – allowing Loeb to close to 32.5 seconds, but he was back on it for the rally's last test, posting fastest time as he put everything into the stage which confirmed his status as the world's best rally driver.
Makinen took the final podium position on his last drive in the FIA World Rally Championship and in the process helped ease Subaru clear of Ford, to take third place in the manufacturers' series. It was fitting that the four-times world champion's best result of the season came on the final round – although Rally Great Britain remains one of the few WRC rounds that he has been unable to win.
"I just can't believe this," said Solberg, "It's amazing, absolutely amazing. I haven't been thinking about the championship, just driving my stages and now we're here and we are the champions. The rally has gone so well for us, it really has – for the whole team this is a fantastic result."
Makinen noted: "I'm so happy for Petter, it's great for him and everyone here. It's nice for me to make the podium on the last rally. I've enjoyed the event today, but it would have been better if the rain had come yesterday and let everybody have some good sunshine on the final leg."