Petter Solberg brought his Subaru Impreza WRC2003 home to win the twelfth round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship in Ajaccio today.

The Norwegian had crashed his car heavily at the pre-rally shakedown on Thursday lunchtime, but the Subaru team worked through the night to re-prepare the car in time for the Friday-morning start. Solberg repaid their efforts in fine style with a 36.6-second victory at the end of the third day of competition in Corsica, completing a fantastic come back.

Solberg's only threat through the final day had been Ford's Francois Duval, but today's stages proved difficult for the Belgian, who had never driven them before. Eventually Duval was caught and passed by Carlos Sainz who made an inspired choice of slick tyre for the final two stages of the day.

Sainz's efforts net him the lead in the drivers' championship - a series which Richard Burns has headed since Rally of Turkey in March. Burns' eighth place drops him to third in the championship - three points behind Sainz - equal point with Solberg, who is second for difference in victories.

The next round of the FIA World Rally Championship starts in Catalunya in just four days time.

Both Subaru Impreza WRC 2003s ran without any mechanical problems throughout the final leg of the event.

Solberg controlled proceedings from the front this morning. His overnight lead of 17.9 seconds had mushroomed to 36.5 seconds after the first loop of stages, allowing the Norwegian to take a more measured approach to the final two. Solberg's third win of the season moves him up second in the drivers' championship, just three points off the lead.

Tommi Makinen's day didn't start too well, the Finn feeling unwell for the first two stages. He also suffered a puncture in the first of the day's four stages. Those troubles aside Makinen maintained his grip on seventh position and managed to take 22.9 seconds out of sixth-placed Gilles Panizzi through the final test of the rally.

Solberg said: "This is an amazing result. I can't say enough for the team and everybody who has worked so hard to achieve this. Sitting in my hotel room on Thursday morning, this seemed such a long way away. I didn't really believe that I could actually take part in this rally never mind win it. It's fantastic. Now I am right back in with the championship fight. It would be nice to have a wet Catalunya Rally for us, as the Pirellis really work so well in wet and changeable conditions. Having said that, Pirelli came up with a very good tyre in the dry on this rally - look at the first day, we were close to the others when there was no rain."

Makinen added: "My stomach was really bad this morning, I did not feel so good at all. On the stages, we were quite lucky with the puncture - the tyre did not go off the rim. If it had, then we could have had some problems as we were in quite a fast part of the stage at that time."

Team boss David Lapworth concluded: "I've never seen anything like this in all my time in rallying. If you could have seen the state of the car on Thursday afternoon, you wouldn't have believed it could be here. The team has done a brilliant job, as have Pirelli, coming up with some new tyres for us after a two-day test in the week prior to the rally."

At Citroen meanwhile the Xsara WRCs ran without any problems through the final leg.

Sainz closed in on Duval, narrowing the gap to the second-placed Ford to just 0.1s after the first two stages of the day. The Spaniard had been all set to go out of service on intermediate tyres until - quite literally - the last minute, when he changed his mind and went for cut slick tyres. The first of the final two stages was damp, and Sainz dropped time to his rival. Going into the final stage 10.6 seconds separated the pair, but when the final 20 kilomtres was dry, Sainz was able to push harder and make up the time and more, eventually beating Duval by 5.1 seconds.

Colin McRae was also embroiled in a battle to regain the fourth place he held overnight. Marcus Gronholm passed the Citroen driver in the first run at Pont De Calzola. Just 1.2 seconds split the pair in the next stage, but McRae struggled to match the Finn in the final test, losing the place by 16.8 seconds.

Loeb started the day in 14th position and made one place on the leaderboard through the final four stages of leg three. The Frenchman was, however, fastest on every stage today.

Sainz said: "This has been such a difficult rally for tyres, right up until the end nobody was sure what we would want. It was my decision to go on the slicks, and it was the right one. It's been a great battle with Francois. Now I have the championship lead - I just hope I have a good Catalunya."

McRae commented: "We lost some time in the wider part of the second stage this morning - it was really slippery in there, with a lot of mud around. Then on the last loop we took an intermediate tyre with a cut in it - we didn't need the cut. We tried, but unfortunately we couldn't manage to get fourth - but we did get some valuable points for Citroen in the manufacturers' standings."

Loeb added: "This is quite a difference from two weeks ago - but then that's the way rallying goes. The one thing we can take from this rally is the pace we have shown, that's encouraging for the next round in Catalunya."

Over at Ford Duval's Focus RS WRC 03 ran without any problems through the final day, while the sister car of Markko Martin suffered a gearbox problem towards the end of the first stage of the leg. Martin then crashed on the penultimate stage. Mikko Hirvonen's 2002 Focus ran with no technical trouble.

Running on stages which he hadn't seen before, Duval was always going to struggle to keep Sainz behind him, he managed it through the first loop. But was usurped on the final stage of the day after a big push from the Spaniard who had chosen a slick tyre more suited to the final 20 kilometres of the rally. Duval, who led the rally yesterday, ended the event 5.1 seconds behind, but was happy with the performance he had shown throughout the rally.

Martin's event ended on the penultimate stage, when the Estonian crashed his car out of the rally.

Mikko Hirvonen took tenth place on his first visit to the island. The Finn, driving a 2002-specification Focus, hit a bank and spun on the finish line of one stage this morning, but he escaped both incidents.

Martin said: "We came to a fast fourth-gear corner that turned into a slower one. I lost the car under braking and we went backwards off the road and into the trees. It was a fairly heavy impact, I hit my head hard. We were fortunate not to go off the road forwards, that could have been quite nasty."

Duval noted: "I didn't know those stages this morning, Carlos and the others did. It's been fantastic to lead this event and to finish where we have. Stephane and I have been working hard with our notes and that work is paying off."

Hirvonen added: "Setting a fastest time and making the top ten on my first effort in the Tour of Corsica is a very good result for me, I am happy with that."

All three Peugeot 206 WRCs have run without mechanical fault today.

Gronholm passed McRae for fourth place on the second of today's stages. He then extended his advantage over the second run. After struggling to find the right Michelins yesterday, the Finn got it right today. This is Gronholm's first finish since he finished second on Rally Deutschland.

Gilles Panizzi took the wrong tyres for the final loop of stages, a choice which summed up Panizzi's rally this time around.

Richard Burns brought his 206 home in eighth place, clinching the final drivers' championship point. Burns and his co-driver Robert Reid were both suffering from sickness today. Burns admitted it was affecting his concentration through the first loop of stages, but he felt a little better for the second.

Gronholm said: "We made good tyre choices today. This morning was quite difficult in places; there wasn't any rain, but the surface of the road was damp. Our tyre worked well there, then we took an intermediate this afternoon and with all of the mud from the cuts, it was good."

Panizzi continued: "This has been a really frustrating rally for me. I couldn't get the car right on leg one, then when they were right, I couldn't get the right tyres. I just hope that Catalunya is going to be better for me."

Burns commented: "We had a bit of a moment towards the end of the penultimate stage, the car slid wide and dropped off the road a little bit. Apart from that we haven't had any trouble - apart from the fact that Robert and I have both been ill. The first stage this morning was a real struggle to get through it."

At Skoda Toni Gardemeister's Fabia WRC suffered continued problems with the steering sensor - it also broke rear anti roll bars on both loops of stages. Didier Auriol retired prior to the opening stage when his Fabia was hit by a water-related electrical fault.

Gardemeister started and finished the day in 11th place. The Finn struggled with the car throughout the day, having the Fabia's handling seriously compromised by the broken anti-roll bars. The only stage he managed without the anti-roll bar breaking was the first test, where his fastest time of the leg came.

Gardemeister said: "The car is very hard to drive like this. In long corners you get lots of understeer, then in the tight ones the back end of the car tends to snap away from you. When you have the broken anti-roll bar at the back end of the car, it's soft which picks the front up and takes the grip away from the front wheels. It hasn't been such a good day."

Of the other entries Niall McShea won the final round of this year's FIA Production Car World Rally Championship [PCWRC] in his Mitsubishi Lancer E6. The Ulsterman took control of the rally when Spain's Daniel Sola retired mid-way through the final leg with a broken differential. McShea took victory from Subaru's Toshi Arai, with fellow Impreza driver Martin Rowe taking third. Rowe's third place was enough for him to be crowned this year's world champion of the category.

It was a good weekend for British Group N drivers, as Mark Higgins won the category outright in his Impreza.

Rally statistics - Leg 3:

Starters: 39 crews (21 Group A and 18 Group N) started this morning.

Top retirements: Martin (EE), Sola (E).

Today - Sunday 19 October: Leg 3 started from Ajaccio at 07h00 and covered 240.92km, including 112.10km on four stages.

Stage by stage summary - Leg 3:

SS13 Penitencier-Coti Chiavari 1 (24.24kms):
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 15m 19.0
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 15m 22.3
3. Duval (B) Ford 15m 26.6

Leaders after SS13:
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 3h 24m 35.9
2. Duval (B) Ford 3h 25m 58.1
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 3h 25m 05.7

SS14 Pont de Calzola-Agosta 1 (31.81kms):
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 19m 47.2
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 19m 51.9
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 19m 53.5

Leaders after SS14:
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 3h 44m 27.8
2. Duval (B) Ford 3h 45m 04.3
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 3h 45m 04.4

SS15 Penitencier-Coti Chiavari 2 (24.24kms):
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 15m 25.4
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 15m 26.0
3. McRae (GB) Citroen 15m 27.2

Leaders after SS15:
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 3h 59m 59.9
2. Duval (B) Ford 4h 00m 38.4
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 4h 00m 49.0

SS16 Pont de Calzola-Agosta 2 (31,81kms):
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 19m 56.4
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 19m 59.2
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 20m 02.9

Leaders in Ajaccio after SS16 / Leg 3:
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 4h 32m 17.6
2. Sainz (E) Citroen +36.6
3. Duval (B) Ford +41.7
4. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot +1m 09.2
5. McRae (GB) Citroen +1m 26.0
6. Panizzi (F) Peugeot +1m 58.7
7. Makinen (FIN) Subaru +2m 25.8
8. Burns (GB) Peugeot +2m 36.7
9. Bugalski (F) Citroen +2m 46.8
10. Hirvonen (FIN) Ford +3m 55.4

FIA Production Car WRC leaders after SS16:
1. McShea (GB) Mitsubishi 4h 49m 47.8
2. Arai (J) Subaru +57.6
3. Rowe (GB) Subaru +5m 04.0
4. Kulig (PL) Mitsubishi +5m 58.4
5. Blomqvist (S) Subaru +6m 03.6
6. Colsoul (B) Mitsubishi +8m 09.5
7. Trivino (MEX) Mitsubishi +17m 26.1
8. Errani (I) Mitsubishi +38m 30.0

Final rally statistics:

Event: The rally covered 971.75km, including 397.40km on 16 special stages (including eight run twice). All stages were on asphalt roads closed to other traffic.

Starters: 62 crews (19 Group A and 32 Group N) started the rally.

Finishers: 34 crews (25 Group A and 15 Group N) finished the rally.

Stage winners:
Sainz (SS1)
Loeb (SS2-13-14-15-16)
Martin (SS3-5-6-7)
Duval (SS4)
Hirvonen (SS8)
Panizzi (SS9)
Solberg (SS10-11-12)

Rally leaders:
SS1 Sainz
SS2-SS3 Martin
SS4-SS7 Loeb
SS8-SS11 Duval
SS12-SS16 Solberg

FIA World Rally Championships:

FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers (after 12 of 14 rounds): Sainz (E) 61, Solberg (N) 58, Burns (GB) 58, Loeb (F) 55, Martin (EE) 43, Gronholm (FIN) 43, C. McRae (GB) 40, Makinen (FIN) 23, Duval (B) 21, Rovanpera (FIN) 18, Panizzi (F) 17, Gardemeister (FIN) 9, Auriol (F) 4, Robert (F) 3, A.McRae (GB) 3, Hirvonen (FIN) 3, Schwarz (D) 3, Tuohino (FIN) 2, Loix (B) 1, Ginley (GB) 1, Lindholm (FIN) 1, Bugalski (F) 1.

FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers (after 12 of 14 rounds): Citroen 137, Peugeot 129, Subaru 88, Ford 78, Skoda 21.

FIA Junior World Rally Championship (after 5 of 7 rounds, this event not counting): Tirabassi (F) 28, Canellas (E) 25, Carlsson (S) 18, Wilks (GB) 18, Aava (EE) 16, Baldacci (I) 12, Katajamaki (FIN) 10, Ligato (RA) 10, Teuronen (FIN) 10, Broccoli (RSM) 9, others.

FIA Production Car World Championship (after 7 of 7 rounds): Rowe (GB) 43/6, Arai (J) 38/6, Blomqvist (S) 30/6, Singh (MAL) 30/6, Sola (E) 22/6, McShea (GB) 18, Ligato (RA) 13/6, others.

Next event - October 23-26: Rallye Catalunya- Rallye de Espana.



Loading Comments...