Petter Solberg blitzed five of the last six special stages of the arduous Cyprus Rally on Sunday to notch up Subaru’s first win of the 2003 WRC championship.
Petter Solberg blitzed five of the last six special stages of the Cyprus Rally on Sunday to notch up Subaru’s first win of the 2003 WRC championship.
It was the Norwegian’s second World Rally Championship career victory and over the final 82,86 km, his Suburu Impreza WRC had the fastest time in all but the seventeenth stage.
"I enjoyed the whole rally. I love these tight, twisty types of rally stages," Solberg stated at the finish. "We were quickest from the start. My co-driver Phil (Mills) was really professional, as was everyone in the team here in Cyprus."
Solberg and Mills stayed on top the leaderboard from the opening morning stage to build up the slight edge they held over the Peugeot team of Harri Rovanpera and co-driver Risto Pietilainen.
Mills said: "This was a fantastic result. We were on a cruise towards the end once Harri (Rovanpera) hit trouble, we were surprised to be fastest on the final stage."
Solberg moves into fourth overall in the championship standings, just shy of Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm, the current world champion, in third. Gronholm retired on leg two.
"That was one of the most cool, calm and collected drives that I've ever seen," declared Subaru's David Lapworth. "We knew that Petter had the speed to be a winner but what we wanted him to do was to show that he could drive strategically."
Rovanpera gave Solberg breathing room on the sixteenth stage as the Finn finished a dismal seventh due to a driveshaft failure. This gave Solberg the overall lead with over a two minute cushion, allowing him to take the final two stages at a slower pace.
"The second round of stages today were the most difficult stages of my career," Rovanpera said. "But I held on just from Sebastien Loeb and second place was a great result."
Citroën made a late comeback to take the top three fastest times for the 17th stage. Carlos Sainz set the fastest time, followed by team-mates Colin McRae and Sebastien Loeb.
Loeb gained on second-place Rovanpera, by the end of stage 71, the Frenchman was one minute in the arrears to the sole remaining Peugeot factory driver. Loeb had to still watch his back as teammate McRae was only 25 seconds behind him, followed by Sainz.
The final stage was set with only 17 of the original 51 starters were vying for the precious championship points. Unless the Subaru broke, Solberg had the rally win within his grasp.
Solberg could have been cautious on the final stage, but the Norwegian set the fastest time and won by slightly over four minutes. Rovanpera limped the Peugeot home in tenth for the stage but kept the second spot on the leaderboard, edging Loeb by only 2,8 seconds.
The Spaniard Sainz was second fastest on stage 18, however was not able to gain on his two teammates. McRae was fourth fastest, giving the Scotsman the fourth place overall finish ahead of Sainz in fifth.
Sainz moved to one point behind points leader Richard Burns in the championship standings. Burns retired his Peugeot during leg two on Saturday.
Mikko Hirvonen the only Blue Oval representative after the early retirements of Ford Focus WRC 03 drivers Markko Martin and Francois Duval. Hirvonen finished sixth overall giving him and Ford three points.
Hyundai's Armin Schwarz finished seventh giving the team valuable points and the first ones since the season's opening round at Monte Carlo.
The 341,05 km rally proved to be a downfall for many as the retirement numbers increased per day, 34 in total. Top championship contenders left without points including Burns, Gronholm, Martin, Duval, and Tommi Makinen.
The teams have off a full month before Rallye Deutschland on July 23. Point leader Burns (37) will attempt to keep himself in that position as Sainz at 36 points will try to hold the top spot. Gronholm remains at 30 as he received no points in this weekend's rally. Solberg's victory at Cyprus puts him now fourth in the standings with 29 points. Loeb and McRae moved up to a tie for fifth (23), both are tied with Martin who also earned no points this rally.