One of the fiercest and closest-fought seasons ever seen in world class rallying has ended today with victory in Rally GB for new champion Petter Solberg.

The young Norwegian clinched the 2003 Drivers' titles ahead of French rival Sebastien Loeb whose second place gives Citroen-Michelin the Manufacturers' crown at the French firm's first full-scale attempt.

Retiring Tommi Makinen, the man who collected four world titles himself during the late nineties with Mitsubishi-Michelin, concludes his glorious career with a podium finish ahead of best-placed Brit, Colin McRae.

The weekend concludes another successful campaign for Michelin whose partners collected ten wins from a possible fourteen in 2003, with Citroen securing the tyre firm's tenth title - six Manufacturers, four drivers - from a possible twelve in six years.

The eagerly awaited finale to what has been the most exciting World Rally Championship in years has concluded with the 2003 Manufacturers' and Drivers' titles going to Citroen-Michelin and Petter Solberg respectively.

Rally GB week started with as many as four drivers - Sebastien Loeb, Carlos Sainz, Petter Solberg, Richard Burns - and two manufacturers - Citroen-Michelin, Peugeot-Michelin - all in contention for the two competitions. However, even before the event kicked off on Thursday evening, the entry of Burns was withdrawn for health reasons.

With the list of title contenders finally down to three men - all grouped within just one point at the top of the table!, the rally kicked off in battling style when Loeb edged clear after the first visit to the awesome forests of South Wales which, already, had claimed such top names as Marcus Gronholm and Markko Martin. But even as the Frenchman was making his mark on the event, a freak incident occurred that would influence not only the outcome of the British round but also that of the championship itself...

A faulty on-board TV camera fitted to the Xsara WRC of joint series leader Carlos Sainz [Citroen-Michelin] sparked off a chain reaction that would take much of the fire out of the party. His concentration unsettled after taking time to repair the offending electronic apparatus on the start line of SS3, the Spaniard misheard a pace-note some 2km into the stage and crashed out of the rally at speed. That reduced the number of drivers in the running for 2003 Drivers' honours to just two and at the same time opened up a potential breach in Citroen's defences, barely before Rally GB had even started.

Soon afterwards, at the following service halt, news emerged that Loeb had been requested by his team to adjust his pace with a view to giving the French make the best chance of ensuring sufficient points to secure the Manufacturers' crown ahead of Peugeot-Michelin.

Accordingly, by the very next stage, Solberg was in front. Barring an accident or a mechanical problem and despite the fact that Loeb never let the Norwegian get too far ahead, last year's Rally GB winner looked set to collect a second consecutive win in Wales and, in that case, the 2003 Drivers' title.

And that's exactly how it stayed until Sunday afternoon. Visibly over the moon, the Subaru driver crossed the line of the final stage to take both laurels, while second and fourth places for Loeb and McRae in the final standings were more than enough to ensure that Citroen-Michelin's first full WRC campaign was rewarded with the first Manufacturers' crown of its history, ending the three-year domination in this category of its sister company, Peugeot.

Finally, Subaru's Makinen celebrated his final WRC outing with a podium in Great Britain, ending a career that saw the Finn collect no fewer than four Drivers' championships with Mitsubishi-Michelin between 1996 and 1999, as well as 24 outright wins, of which 23 were on Michelin tyres.

 

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