The 59th Wales Rally of Great Britain takes place this weekend, the fourteenth and final round in the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship.

GB will also play host to the seventh and last round in the 2003 FIA Junior WRC.

A classic world championship rally run as usual on smooth gravel forest roads in mid, south and west Wales. Conditions are varied and unpredictable but not expected to be particularly cold.

The event is based at Cardiff but the stages are essentially located north and west of Swansea.

New this year:

Rally GB is now sponsored by the Welsh Development Agency with support coming also from the Welsh Assembly.

There is a new scrutineering location, outside the official headquarters in the Cardiff City Hall. This area - called the 'Rally Village' - will be the site of the parc ferme, trade and display areas, and the official start and ceremonial finish.

The official finish of the event will be at Margam Park [after stage 18] but the cars will then be led to a ceremonial finish at Cardiff.

There are some new personnel: the Chairman of the organising committee - effectively the Sporting Manager - and deputy clerk of the course is the Australian Claire Parker. Parker has been a co-driver and has worked with Telstra Rally Australia in the past.

There is a new Shakedown location, close to the Service Park at Felindre.

For the first time there will be the same Service Park location for all four days.

FIA World Rally Championship news:

Three drivers are able to win the title, following news that Ricard Burns will not take part owing to illness. All of them start this final round with only one point between them.

Peugeot continues to be the only manufacturer able to beat Citroen to the Manufacturers' title.

News from the Manufacturers' teams:
Citroen Total:

[Colin McRae, car #17 and Sebastien Loeb, car #18. Also nominated Carlos Sainz, car #19]

Two Citroen drivers have the chance to become the 2003 World Champion. Sainz enters this last event the only driver in the championship to have a 100 per cent finishing record so far this year.

This is to be the last rally for Colin McRae with Citroen and after Wales Rally GB he will be seeking a sabbatical from the sport.

Marlboro Peugeot Total:

[Marcus Gronholm, car #1 and Freddy Loix, car #2. (Also nominated Harri Rovanpera, car #3]

This is planned to be the final FIA World Championship rally for the works 206 WRC. This will be the 206 WRC's 62nd world championship event. So far these cars have scored 24 outright wins and three Manufacturers' World titles and two drivers' titles.

Championship contender Richard Burns will not take part, after fainting at the wheel of his car on the M4 motorway near Newport on Sunday evening. This would have been his final event with the team, as he will re-join Subaru in 2004.

Freddy Loix has been brought in to replace the Englishman.

555 Subaru World Rally Team:

[Petter Solberg, car #7 and Tommi Makinen, car #8.]

Team boss David Lapworth commented: "We are reverting to non-active suspension and have a conservative specification, to help Petter. We have prepared the cars to be as driveable and confidence-inspiring for the drivers as possible. This is quite a fast event, on greasy surfaces. You need to dial in a set-up which gives good grip yet which is reactive to the driver's wishes."

This will be Tommi Makinen's final event at WRC, after the Finn elected to retire.

Ford Motor Company:

[Markko Martin, car #4 and Francois Duval, car #5, in 2003 specification cars. Also nominated Mikko Hirvonen, car #6 in a 2002 version car. Also entered Jari-Matti Latvala, car #20.]

Markko Martin had to shorten his pre-Rally GB test work - held in a forest in Lancashire - as he returned home to Estonia, to have physio treatment for neck and back pains incurred in the accident in Corsica.

Skoda Motorsport:

[Didier Auriol, car #14 and Toni Gardemeister, car #15.]

Skoda is one of the most faithful adherents of this event, competing in Britain since the early '70s. Since Catalunya, Gardemeister has been testing new gravel specifications in the Czech Republic. This work is based on recent asphalt knowledge, particularly regarding softening the suspension settings.

News from the Junior WRC:

Two drivers can be champion, Brice Tirabassi and Salvador Canellas.

Tirabassi starts seven points ahead, with the advantage of having JWRC victories to his credit, which would give him the advantage if there was a tie. Frenchman Tirabassi was born 15 June 1977 has been testing gravel set-ups near Grenoble. "Remember that I started my rally career - with the Peugeot 106 - on gravel rallies," noted Tirabassi, "so gravel is more familiar territory to me than asphalt."

Spaniard Canellas (born 17th Jan 1974) comes from a famous motorsport family, his father (also Salvador) was a works driver for SEAT in the '70s, whose greatest rallying success was finishing fourth on the 1977 Monte Carlo Rally.

Other top runners:

Citroen Sport from Spain have entered a works specification Xsara WRC for the 2002 Junior World Champion Daniel Sola.

Bozian have entered a red coloured works-built 206 WRC for Gilles Panizzi, with their own cars for Roman Kresta and Jusso Pykalisto, who is to compete with Makinen's former co-driver Risto Mannisenmaki.

Five times British champion Jimmy McRae is to drive as a competitor on this event (in a Subaru from John Lloyd), his son Alister has had to cancel his entry on account of not finding a World Rally Car to drive.

1989 Lombard RAC Rally winner Pentti Airikkala makes a comeback. He drives the same Mitsubishi Group A car in which his protege Jari-Matti Latvala, when 17 years old, finished 17th on last year's event.

Special facts:

Special media facilities are being arranged on the Thursday morning for the Shakedown. Journalists are being asked to park in the Service Area, then to be taken by shuttle bus to the course, which is around one kilometre away.

Special media facilities have also been arranged at the end of the final stage [Margam] on Sunday afternoon, the official end of the rally. There will be photo opportunities in front of the stately home, Margam House, and crews will be available for short interviews.

Special notes:

There have been slight changes to the itinerary - now there will be 18, not 19 stages.