After three stages of the championship-deciding British Rally, Sebastien Loeb holds a 3,8-second lead over title rival and Subaru driver Petter Solberg. The title race became a two-way battle after Carlos Sainz dropped out of contention on Friday.

After three stages of the championship-deciding British Rally, Sebastien Loeb holds a 3,8-second lead over title rival and Subaru driver Petter Solberg. The title race became a two-way battle after Citroën's Carlos Sainz dropped out of contention on Friday.


Solberg threw down the gauntlet by setting the fastest time on the superspecial stage in Cardiff on Thursday evening, but on the 23,12 km Brechfa stage (SS2), Loeb beat Solberg by 4,6 seconds to take the rally lead. The young Frenchman was again the fastest through the 27,96-km Trawscoed (SS3), followed by his Norwegian rival's Subaru Impreza WRC.


Sainz, who shared the lead of WRC championship table with Citroën Xsara team-mate Loeb before the rally, saw his title hopes evaporate when he crashed out of the rally early in the stage.


It wasn't a good stage for former world champions - the outgoing title-holder Marcus Gronholm hit a log, which was marked in his pacenotes. The Finn's Peugeot 206 was left with front wheels pointing in different directions, and although Gronholm completed the stage, he dropped very nearly 14 minutes.


Ford Focus RS 03 WRC driver Markko Martin finished SS2 with fluid leaking from the Focus and an overheating engine, but he and co-driver Beef Park consulted team engineers and managed to fix the problem on SS3.


Martin was third fastest on the stage, 5,6 seconds slower than Loeb. After SS3, the Estonian was third overall, 12,1 seconds adrift of Loeb's pace.


Tommi Makinen was the best of the rest in the second Subaru - 21,8sec adrift. The four-times world champions, who is retiring after this rally, was fourth overall.


Colin McRae lost much time in the Citroën. The Scot was 31,5 seconds slower than Loeb and just quicker than Harri Rovanpera in the Peugeot and Francis Duval's Ford, which tied on time with Gilles Panizzi's Peugeot.