With constantly changing weather conditions keeping drivers on their toes in the Corsican mountains, Subaru's Petter Solberg overcame the elements to secure his third win of the season on this year's Tour of the Mediterranean island.

After squeezing into the lead at the end of day two, the Norwegian kept his head despite the raging battle behind for second spot which was eventually snatched from Francois Duval by Carlos Sainz on the very last stage.

The Citroen-Michelin driver's efforts take the Spaniard to the top of the drivers' championship rankings while the weekend's result means the fight for the constructors' crown is now down to a two-horse race between Citroen and Peugeot... both of whom are Michelin partners!

It has been something of a fairy tale weekend for Solberg.

During the traditional 'shakedown' test session on the morning before the start, the Norwegian smashed his Subaru against a telegraph pole; the nature of the damage was so severe that it was uncertain that he would even be able to compete.

In the end, thanks to through-the-night hammer and spanner work by his team, he was able to line up at Friday's start and, three days later, he went on to take his third win of the season.

Although much of the event was marked by fickle, ever-changing weather conditions, the opening leg of the 2003 Tour of Corsica took place in clear sunshine and, for a moment, it looked very much as though early leader S?bastien Loeb was simply going to carry on where he had left off in Sanremo two weeks previously - in front. But that was day one.

As Saturday dawned, and as ominous clouds gathered over the mountains, it was clear that another scenario could well unfold. And indeed, as one shower blew in over the island after another, and with strong winds drying the roads between two downpours, many of the favourites found themselves in trouble.

In the frequently treacherous conditions, three of the front-runners - Markko Martin, Sebastien Loeb and Marcus Gronholm - lost time with off-road excursions, handing the lead to Ford-Michelin youngster Francois Duval who succeeded in holding onto it until the last stage of the long second leg. Unfortunately, for that relatively dry test, the Belgian opted for a significantly 'cut' tyre pattern, more suited to the wet, a decision that allowed Solberg to complete the afternoon in front.

The final day provided further mixed conditions that made tyre choice equally difficult, but the Subaru driver maturely defended his advantage as attention turned to the battle between Duval and Sainz for second place. A brave decision to use dry weather rubber for the ultimate group of stages, while all his rivals chose products more suited to the wet, allowed the charging Spaniard to clinch the silver medal at the last minute, a result that puts him on top of the provisional drivers' championship in which four drivers - Sainz, Burns, Solberg, Loeb - are now grouped within six points, with two rounds remaining [Spain and Great Britain].

Sainz's last minute dash also harvested two extra points for his team in the battle for the Manufacturer's title which can no longer be won by anyone else than Citroen or its sister company Peugeot. Both of course are Michelin teams which means that although the situation in the drivers' series is still very much undecided, the Clermont-Ferrand based company will add at least one more WRC crown to the 33 - 17 Manufacturers, 16 Drivers - it has already secured since the creation of the championship in 1973.

Finally, although many front-runners were delayed for one reason or another over the three days, there were few retirements amongst the WRC regulars. Skoda-Michelin's Didier Auriol was eliminated by an electronic problem at the start of the very first stage, while Markko Martin crashed out on the last day.

 

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