Petter Solberg was left ruing the continuing icy conditions on the final leg of Wales Rally GB that he reckoned cost him a podium finish to round off the 2008 World Rally Championship campaign - and arguably even his first victory in more than 50 outings.

In company with home-grown co-driver Phil Mills, Solberg had produced the kind of form that took him to four consecutive WRGB triumphs from 2005 to 2005 and the 2003 WRC crown on day two, as he had slashed the gap separating him from long-time leader Jari-Matti Latvala from 46 seconds overnight to just 24 seconds midway through the second leg.

Whilst expressing himself bullish about his chances of gaining his first win since 2005 [see separate story - click here], the 34-year-old was rather more cautionary about the ice, the slippery conditions clearly not suiting the Subaru Impreza as well as they did the Citro?n C4 or Ford Focus.

That much would be evinced on the final loop of stages in Rheola and Port Talbot on Sunday morning, as the Norwegian-Welsh duo grappled with temperatures dipping as low as minus five degrees Celsius and a chronic lack of grip, ultimately conceding a chunk of time to the leading trio and reaching the finish in Cardiff almost two minutes adrift of rally winner S?bastien Loeb, albeit still in fourth position.

"We have had some good stages and done a lot of very positive split times," Solberg commented afterwards, "so it's been quite a good weekend and I'm pretty happy. I tried hard, but this morning was full ice so we were on the limit definitely.

"We had to settle for fourth, as we just didn't have the grip to push on the ice and there was no chance to close the gap. I tried some small adjustment on the dampers before service, but it was worse so I had to go back again for the afternoon.

"We knew yesterday that if there was ice this morning we would not have a chance, but if it was normal gravel or mud it would have been okay, because that's where we have improved the car since Japan.

"On the fast sections I'm as fast as everyone else, just not on the ice, but we are definitely moving right. There are still a few things to sort out, but now the team have some time until next season so I'm sure we'll return strong and able to really fight.

"It hasn't been the best year but we have seen in Japan that we have taken real steps forward. I am sure there will be some wins next year if we have more grip. The first rally next year is Ireland and it is only gravel. I want to do it now! I don't want to have a break - I'm all fired up!"

Sixth in the final drivers' standings - four points behind fifth-placed team-mate Chris Atkinson, who rolled spectacularly out of WRGB at the end of the opening day - may be Solberg's equal-lowest championship finish since 2001, but his fourth position in the Welsh forests did at least secure Subaru third spot in the teams' title chase.

What's more, with the Rally Acropolis-introduced Impreza WRC 2008 - the Japanese manufacturer's first new rally car in eight years - displaying considerable promise, the Prodrive-run concern's team principal David Richards is confident that in 2009 Subaru and Solberg will be right back where they belong, and right back in the hunt for glory.

"Petter and Phil drove well this weekend," the 56-year-old stated, "and we saw them deliver some very encouraging stage times in incredibly tricky conditions.

"It is a shame to have just missed out on a podium at home, but nevertheless it marks the end of a year in which we have seen the performance of our new car consistently improving, and there are yet more positives we can take from this weekend into the winter break as we continue our preparations for next season."

"I still think Petter can be competitive," concurred SWRT team manager Paul Howarth. "We just need to give him the tools to allow him to do the job."



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