Although the young Norwegian is under contract at Ford, Subaru is prepared to break the bank to land Petter Solberg for next season.

The Banbury-based operation is looking to firm up its line-up for 2001 and, with veteran Juha Kankkunen already taking a back seat on some event this year, young blood is high on the shopping list to partner Richard Burns. Markko Martin and Toni Gardemeister are also apparently under consideration for the opening, but it is Solberg that Prodrive and Subaru want most.

The only problem lies in the shape of a five-year deal the Norwegian has with fellow front-runners Ford, and which the Blue Oval is rather keen to keep him to. Although he has yet to win a world championship rally, Solberg has taken more than his fair share of stage wins this season, despite only running a third car for Malcolm Wilson's team, and is widely tipped to break into the main line-up before too long.

''We're looking at what we're doing with him next year, and it is an extension of what we're doing this year,'' Ford Motorsport boss Martin Whittaker told worldrallynews.com, ''He's part of the Ford family, and we have to recognise the value of our drivers. There is no doubt that a number of teams have expressed an interest in Petter but, having said that, he is contracted to us.''

Gardemeister and Martin are free to move from their current rides at the end of the season.