The 14th and final round of the 2001 World Rally Championship, the Rally of Great Britain, starts from Cardiff on Thursday 22nd November.

In what promises to be a thrilling conclusion to the series, competition for the 2001 FIA Drivers' and Manufacturers' titles will go right to the wire and both results will be decided in the Welsh Capital on Sunday 25th.

In the Drivers' contest, the event will see the closest finale to a World Rally Championship ever. Four drivers are mathematically able to take the title; Colin McRae (42pts), Tommi Makinen (41pts), Richard Burns (40 pts) and Carlos Sainz (33pts). But it's the 'Battle of the Brits' between local heroes Burns and McRae that looks likely to dominate the event. They, together with Makinen, know that a win will guarantee the title. Sainz still has an outside chance of a third Championship. To claim it he needs to win, but must then rely on some poor finishes from the other contenders.

In the Manufacturers' title, Peugeot (90pts) lead the series with Ford (86pts) right behind. Subaru (62pts) finished well in Australia and closed the gap on third-placed Mitsubishi (69pts). With 16 points available in the UK, Ford will be hoping to snatch the title from Peugeot, while Subaru is in a strong position to challenge its Japanese rival.

The Rally of Great Britain is one of the UK's largest sporting events, attracting almost 200,000 paying spectators and a world-wide TV audience in 186 countries. With the exception of a purpose-built 2.4-km super-special stage in Cardiff Bay, all of the events 380 stage kilometres will be run on Welsh gravel tracks that snake through the forest countryside. The stages feature a mix of hard-packed gravel and slippery mud, with the close proximity of trees a constant reminder of the unforgiving nature of the event.

Weather conditions are changeable but typically rainy and cold - with ice and fog a possibility on the early morning stages. The stages are affected greatly by the weather and having tyres that can cut through the mud and get grip and traction are essential. A new 75-acre service area is being laid out at Felindre, near Swansea. The site is the only service point on the rally and is visited 11 times between Friday morning and Sunday afternoon.

After wins on this event in 1998, 1999 and 2000 Subaru's Richard Burns is bookies favourite for victory again, and could drive into the record books as the only man to win the rally four times in a row.

Behind the wheel of the Subaru Impreza WRC2001, on a familiar stage surface and in front of a home crowd, few would doubt the British star's chances of another win next weekend. He has gathered a winning momentum in the second half of the season and has taken 25 points from the last five rallies.

Burns said: "It's excellent to be back in Wales and on my home event. There's a great atmosphere and I get loads of encouragement from the spectators on the route - I hope to give them something to cheer about this year! It's my favourite round of the season, and the most crucial rally for me this year."

"As far as the Championship is concerned, I know exactly what's needed. Last year I had to win and then rely on a poor finish from Gronholm, but this time a win will clinch the title - it's as simple as that. The pre-event testing and preparations have gone well, the car, as we're proved on recent events, is well up to the job, and I'm going to give all I can - I've got a good momentum and it's going to be a good fight."

The Rally of Great Britain will see a four-car entry from the Subaru World Rally Team, which is running Impreza WRC2001's for Richard Burns, Petter Solberg, Markko M?rtin and Toshihiro Arai. Burns and Solberg will be nominated to score manufacturers' points.

Petter Solberg said: "I think the rally will be very exciting as the Drivers' Championship goes down to the wire. We will be pushing hard to help get more points for team. The testing went really well last week. The main key on this rally is to achieve a good grip level so we did a lot of work on optimising the tyre and suspension set-ups. I am positive we have got it right for the event."

Toshihiro Arai noted: "It will be a difficult rally for me, as it has been in the past. I am not too familiar with the stages whereas a lot of other drivers have a better advantage as they are used to the terrain - it is very different to my country. The rally always has bad weather. The surfaces are slippery and there is a lot of fog and night driving involved. I find it a hard but very challenging event. I would love to finish in the top ten."

Markko M?rtin added: "I will just be trying my best on my last event with the Subaru Team. I have a reasonably good record on the Rally of Great Britain, I have finished every time I have entered and I was seventh last year in the Toyota Celica, so I should be able to get a decent result. It will be better for me if there is not so much fog, as I don't like driving in that too much."

Additionally, the Allstars team, in conjunction with Banbury-based 22 Motorsport, will be running a Subaru Impreza WRC for up-and-coming British driver Neil Wearden.

SWRT Sporting Director, George Donaldson concluded: "Great Britain is a unique rally in the Championship. It's a high-speed event, but one that features a very challenging surface and rapidly changing levels of grip. This is probably the biggest challenge for drivers."

"On the approach to a corner there may be plenty of grip, but a little later on, just when he is about to turn in, the grip will disappear. It's all about mud, and the different types that the stages are covered in, the difficult thing is that there are often no visual cues to the level of grip available - it can change in a matter of yards. Traction is key, so at our pre-event tests we've been concentrating on suspension set-ups, together with evaluating the latest tyre developments from Pirelli. I'm also expecting some heavily rutted stage conditions when drivers use the stages for the second time."

Between the rallies:

...Another hectic couple of weeks for the Subaru Team drivers...

Petter Solberg stepped off a plane at Manchester Airport after the flight from Australia and drove straight to Carmarthen in South Wales for two days of pre-event testing.

Toshihiro Arai took over the driving duties for day three of the test near Machynlleth in mid-Wales and Markko M?rtin, on his 26th birthday, was at the wheel for day four.

After testing, Arai travelled to Japan to take part in a Subaru Impreza show in Osaka, Japan where he carried some demonstration runs for the crowd in his Subaru Impreza WRC2001.

Richard Burns took a flight from Perth to South Africa for a week and a half of rest and relaxation before starting the preparations for his championship bid. He returned on Wednesday 14th for a pre-event PR day alongside British co-drivers Robert Reid, Phil Mills and Michael Park.

Burns then travelled to Wales for a three-day test. All four crews will travel to Wales over the weekend ready to start the recce on Monday morning.