WRC » 7 September 2003
Solberg takes Aussie thriller, Loeb second.
Hirvonen caught team-mate Duval on the penultimate stage of the event to beat the Belgian to ninth place and the final manufacturers' championship point. Duval dropped time with an overshoot on the final test and ended the event tenth. Both drivers were happy that they had gained valuable experience on the Australian stages.
Martin's car was excluded when scrutineers found a rock inside the Focus, used as ballast, which had contravened FIA regulations.
Hirvonen said: "This is a great result for me. The throttle problem is one that we have had before; the throttle sticks open when you are braking for the corners, which pushes the car on and makes it difficult to get through the corner. Then on the straights it wasn't responding properly, so we couldn't get the full power straight away."
Duval added: "Mikko has driven very well on this rally. For me it was really important to get to the finish, especially after I crashed on the final leg in Finland. The overshoot in the last stage cost me a lot of time, we were going flat out when I missed the junction – so we had to handbrake it and come all the way back up the road. I would say we dropped 20 seconds."
Team boss Malcolm Wilson added: "We broke a rule and were excluded, that's that, but it's very disappointing."
At Hyundai Armin Schwarz's car ran reliably today, while Freddy Loix's Accent WRC suffered a repeat of the shock absorber problems which have troubled him all rally.
Loix admitted he was pushing as hard as he could in order to try and keep the Fords of Mikko Hirvonen and Francois Duval behind him. He hung on to finish the event in eighth place, just a shade under ten seconds ahead of Hirvonen, scoring two manufacturers' points and a drivers' championship point. The set-up of Schwarz's car was lowered and the German felt happier at the wheel of the Accent. He brought the car home in 13th place.
Loix said: "The stages today were really fast with quite a lot of deep gravel in places, so they weren't going to suit our car so well, but we went flat out and made it here in the right place. It's good for me and for the team that we have some points."
Schwarz added: "Okay I made the finish, but this was a very difficult rally. Today the car did feel better, the stages went well, but with the time lost on the first two legs, there wasn't much we could do about the position."
Didier Auriol's Skoda Fabia WRC suffered loss of hydraulic pressure on the first loop of stages this morning, while Toni Gardemeister's car ran without problems.
Auriol's hydraulic problem dropped him back behind his team-mate Gardemeister and into 12th place. Gardemeister's one-armed drive continued, and while 11th overall might not have seemed like much reward, he was awarded the Inmarsat Star of the Rally for his gutsy drive.
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