As he endeavours to make sure that 2008 is not the third successive season in which he has failed to reach the top step of the podium in the World Rally Championship, Petter Solberg has vowed to 'risk it' and 'go absolutely mad' on Wales Rally GB this weekend, the final meeting on the calendar.

Incredibly, the Norwegian has now not triumphed in some 51 rallies, with his most 'recent' success coming, perhaps appropriately, on British shores in 2005. Since then there have been just eight rostrum appearances - only one of which has come this season, as the 34-year-old's fortunes have plummeted hand-in-hand with those of employers Subaru.

The debut of the 2008-spec Impreza has, however, led to cause for optimism within the Prodrive camp, with Solberg finishing runner-up to record-breaking five-time World Rally Champion S?bastien Loeb on the car's maiden outing on the Acropolis Rally at the beginning of June, and subsequently stringing together seven straight points-scoring results.

Though none of those finishes have been higher than fourth, there was an encouraging run on Rally Japan last time out with four fastest stage times. Moreover, with Solberg's breakthrough WRC success having come on British soil six years ago - his first of four consecutive triumphs on the event - and with co-driver Phil Mills being a born-and-bred Welshman, hopes are high of a final flourish to end what has been another trying campaign.

"Obviously it's been quite hard for everybody," the 2003 World Rally Champion mused. "We should have been faster - we can all see why and where - but a lot of it is down to the homologation. We can give a lot of excuses, but at the end of the day we just have to improve to get Subaru back to the top again and in the fight.

"The team have done some good things to the car before this rally, and the feeling is better. With just a couple more improvements now I think we can be more consistently up at the top and fighting for many stage wins. We'll just take this rally for now, and then work on fixing the rest of the details over the winter.

"Wales Rally GB has been a very good rally for me. It's an incredible event, and I think and hope we will maybe have a chance to fight for victory again. We did some good testing before the rally like we did before Rally Japan, and we had some stage wins there, so it would be nice to tick it off again and get the victory.

"It's going to be tough, but I'm going to go absolutely mad on this rally to try to win for the team and the mechanics who have all worked so hard. I'm going to risk it!"

Solberg acknowledged that given the tricky conditions on the recce - 'there is more snow here now than we had a couple of years ago in Sweden!' - the tyre decision will be both difficult and critical, but he insisted that safety had to be the main priority.

Beyond that, though Subaru's pace of development in 2008 may not have been as quick as he would evidently have liked, he is buoyant about the future, when he is confident the real, rally-winning and title-challenging Petter Solberg will be very much back in evidence once more.

"I know where I've come from and what I've done," the 13-time rally-winner underlined. "I've won a lot of rallies and I've been faithful to Subaru, and we will be back again and I will be back again next year to fight at the top.

"We've had good times and bad times, but things have improved - we saw the same thing with Marcus [Gr?nholm] at Peugeot. That's how it is, but I'm feeling positive about the future."

by Russell Atkins



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