History was made in Wales today when 555 Subaru World Rally Team driver Petter Solberg became the first Norwegian to win the FIA World Rally Championship for drivers.

In a spectacular finale to the 2003 WRC series, the 28-year-old won the Wales Rally GB by a margin of 43.6 seconds, to collect the fifth WRC win of his career, his second consecutive victory in Wales and secure the 2003 WRC Drivers' title.

Having led the event from leg one, the charismatic star kept his nerve on the final three stages today and delivered a perfect strategic performance - to the delight of the thousands of fans that cheered him all the way.

The win marks the end to the most successful year of rally driving for Solberg and his Welsh co-driver Phil Mills. Since their first WRC win in Wales last year, the pair have recorded another four outright rally victories, 48 stage wins and seven podium finishes.

"What can I say, I'm just about speechless, it's hard to put what I'm feeling into words," noted 'Hollywood', "It's such a great way to finish the year, it's been hard at times and now it's just the greatest feeling. I have to thank so many people - in the team, at Subaru in Japan, at Pirelli - it's a fantastic effort. This just proves that the more you put in the more you get out and now I'm here as World Rally Champion!

"I'd like to thank Tommi [Makinen] for his support over the last two years, he's been a great team-mate and friend and I'd like to dedicate this win to him."

Makinen meanwhile contesting his last event as a full-time WRC driver, fulfilled his plan of retiring from the sport while at the top. After setting a lightening pace throughout the rally, the four-times World Champion finished third, his best result in GB, and earned a place on the podium with Solberg. As an added bonus, his emotionally charged performance netted the Finnish legend the award of 'Inmarsat Star of the Rally'

"I'm very happy to finish like this, it's my best result in GB and not really a bad way to finish my career," said the Finn. "It's been quite a strange feeling for me this weekend, knowing that this could be the last time I drive a WRC car, but it's been very good, I've really enjoyed driving and for sure I'll miss it.

"I'm so happy for Petter though, we've had a lot of fun together over the past two years and he really deserves this result. There are so may people to thank, not just now, but for my whole career and I'm very grateful for everyone's help in making my time in the WRC so special. I suppose it'll seem a bit strange not having to get ready for Monte Carlo next year. I'll be there for sure, but as a spectator instead next time."

Subaru has now been the driving force behind six FIA World Rally Championship titles. The Japanese marque was Manufacturers' champion in 1995, 1996 and 1997, while the Impreza was behind the Drivers' titles of Colin McRae in 1995, Richard Burns in 2001 and now Petter Solberg.

Team boss, David Lapworth, commented: "What a fantastic result and an excellent, calculated drive from Petter - he kept his cool all the way through. It's incredible when you think that it was only a year ago that he took his first ever WRC win. He's scored five wins in the last fifteen rallies, and four in the last eight. That's pretty impressive. This year has the best ever Championship for the team, a lot of people wrote Petter off in the fight for the Championship in the early part of the season, but I think today answers that.

"It was fantastic to see Tommi win his long battle with Colin [McRae], and finish on the podium, despite having been conducting a tyre test for Petter along the way. The gold boots did the trick, and it's an excellent end to his full-time driving career. Expect to see Petter in them from Monte Carlo next year!"

Fiore Brivio, Pirelli Tyres Rally manager, added: "An amazing day for Subaru, Petter, Tommi and Pirelli. Both drivers used the Pirelli PZero KML gravel tyre in various evolutions for the whole of Leg three. For Tommi to finish on the podium on his last event as a full-time WRC driver is phenomenal. Petter this weekend has driven an absolutely amazing event. We have been absolutely delighted with the performance of the tyres."