by Rob Wilkins

Subaru team leader Petter Solberg has won the Rally Italia Sardinia today [Sunday], dominating the event from the outset, and eventually taking the honours by 2 minutes 7.9 seconds.

'Hollywood' led from SS1, winning 13 of the 19 stages en-route to his third victory in as many events, following his triumphs in Japan and Wales.

"It's a fantastic feeling, but it's been really hard work all the way - Phil [Mills] was cheering as we crossed the finish line, but I was still too focused on the driving to take it all in! It's been a very good few rallies, let me tell you, and it's a great feeling to take another win here, the team have been working so hard, and I think we've proved that we're the best team on gravel now," he said.

"The event has been good fun to drive, I didn't feel I was pushing to the limit, but the tyres were good, the car worked well and when everything comes together like that it's much easier for me. Pirelli have been very good here, I must say, our tyre choices have been perfect all weekend and I want to thank them, the team and everyone at Subaru for a great job."

Championship leader, Sebastien Loeb took second and is now within touching distance of his maiden world title - 26 points in front of Solberg, with only three rounds to go, and therefore a maximum of 30 points available to score.

"Just after the first stage, I said to myself that it will be difficult to beat Petter Solberg here. I went faster in some places but he always kept his lead," explained Loeb. "When Marcus Gronholm had some problems, I thought it wasn't stupid to go for the second place. And that's what we've done, just before two events, which should be favourable to us. Actually, I won't hide that I would really like to win Corsica."

Carlos Sainz took third in the sister Xsara WRC, to strengthen Citroen's position in the manufacturers' championship. They are now 47 points in front of Ford.

"This event was very difficult for the engineers and the technicians as we were driving on new terrain. We had to quickly find the most appropriate settings. It was also very tricky for the drivers due to the very narrow stages and the rocks interspersing on the sides. Despite all that, the team has scored a fantastic result with two cars in the top three. On my side, I'm now lying third in the Drivers' Championship and I will try to defend this position," noted the Spaniard.

Andrea Navarra was fourth, in his Subaru Impreza WRC on his home event. His result was the best achieved by any privateer entry all season.

Francois Duval took fifth, some consolation for Ford, while Gianluigi Galli was sixth, despite gearbox problems in the final three tests. Galli also won the Group N category.

"It has been a difficult event and I'm happy to see the finish. I've not had full confidence this weekend," reflected Duval. "The handling was unpredictable for the first two days, although it felt much better today. The roads here are very specialised. They're twisty, rough and narrow with many big stones to hit. I've not really enjoyed the stages and maybe the best plan for me is to go back to the asphalt in Sanremo! The team hasn't had much luck this weekend but we've finished in the points again so that is a positive thing to take away."

Marcus Gronholm and Antony Warmbold rounded off the points' scorers, in seventh and eighth respectively, Gronholm recovering from his turbo problems yesterday that cost him over 20 minutes.

Junior winner, Per-Gunnar Andersson was next up, ninth overall, while Paolo Andreucci completed the top ten. Brit Guy Wilks was second in the JWRC, over 2 minutes off his Suzuki team-mate, with Mirco Baldacci taking the final spot on the 'junior' podium. Wilks now leads the Junior standings by 3 points.

In total just 29 competitors completed the event, 67 having started on Friday morning.

Amongst those to go out, were five works drivers, namely Toni Gardemeister (out in SS1), Mikko Hirvonen (out after SS3), Armin Schwarz (out after SS8), Harri Rovanpera (out before SS9), and Markko Martin, who retired today in SS16 - he had been running third overall, and on course for the final spot on the podium.

"The turbo failed," explained Martin. "It made a big hole in the housing and because oil was leaking onto the hot engine, every time we tried to start the car, the turbo caught fire. We put out the flames and blocked the pipes, which feed oil to cool the turbo. That prevented the engine from catching fire again and eventually we finished the stage. We tried so hard to reach the next control point before exceeding the time limit but arrived there just two minutes too late and had to withdraw."

The next event now is the Tour de Corse, which begins in two weeks time from the French Island of Corsica. The first of two consecutive classic asphalt rallies, the event is renowned for its twisty stages and abrasive road surface. Including 387.80 competitive kilometres over 12 stages, the three-day event starts on Friday 15 October. The longest stage is the repeated Peri-Bastelica test at 40.94km, and the shortest is the repeated Penitencier Coti Chiavari - Pietra Rossa stage at 24.24km.

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