Petter Solberg clinched the 2004 WRC driver's title by winning the British Rally on Sunday. The Subaru driver overtook Sébastien Loeb's Citroën on Friday and won 13 of the 18 stages en route to the championship.
Petter Solberg clinched the 2004 WRC driver's title by winning the British Rally in Wales on Sunday. The Norwegian Subaru driver overtook title rival Sébastien Loeb's Citroën on Friday and won 13 of the 18 stages en route to the championship.
Solberg won his first ever WRC event at the same venue last year and led this year's event on each of the three legs. "Incredible," Solberg exclaimed as he climbed out of his Subaru at the finish line. "I'm the best in the world."
His performance capped a year in which competitors were often either tied for the top spot or just a mere point or two behind the overall leader, which changed multiple times during the season. As was the case with the 2003 F1 championship, the new point system put in place by the FIA ensured that the title race remained alive until the last rally of the season.
Norway's first world champion took the title by just one point over Loeb. Carlos Sainz, who retired on the first day, finish ed third in the championship with 63 points.
"I just can't believe this. It's amazing, absolutely amazing," commented Solberg. "The rally has gone so well for us, it really has - for the whole team this is a fantastic result."
Subaru's team principal, David Lapworth, added, "What a fantastic result, he (Petter) kept his cool all the way through. It's amazing when you think that he only won his first round of the world championship 12 months ago."
Loeb added a touch of drama on Sunday when he took the first of the final three stages trying to put pressure on the leader, "It's a big gap, because Petter has a good rhythm," the young Frenchman said after stage 16's win. "I will keep up the pressure, because it will be difficult for him to concentrate with only two stages to the championship."
Loeb cut Solberg's cushion of 41,2 seconds to just 36 seconds prior to SS17, which the Citroën driver also won. But Solberg maintained a 32,5-second lead for the final stage. To cap off his season, Solberg edged out Loeb by 11,1 seconds with the fastest time on the season finale last stage.
However, Citroën did succeed in breaking Peugeot's three-year stranglehold on the manufacturers' championship. The French team, in its first full year of participation in the WRC, came into the final event with a five-point lead over the Peugeot team - which had won the title five times (1984, 86', 2000, 01' and 02').
"It has been a difficult rally for me," said Loeb. "I had to try to drive fast for myself but steady enough to stay on the road for the team. It has not been easy, but I'm here, second in the championship and first for the team."
Loeb may have finished second in the rally and the world championship as a driver, but his final placement ensured the French team their first manufacturers' title. Citroen ended the season with 160 points, ahead of Peugeot's 145 (in part due to retirements by their top teams this weekend), and Subaru finished third with 109 points.
With Solberg and Loeb battling for first, there was also a tight battle for third. Subaru's Tommi Makinen and Citroën's Colin McRae traded third and fourth throughout the event.
Makinen finished third in his final WRC event, after McRae, pushing hard to catch the Finn, had a puncture on the final stage, ending what was a great fight between the two veteran drivers.
"I'm so happy for Petter (Solberg), it's great for him and everyone here," Makinen said. "It's nice for me to make the podium on the last rally. I've enjoyed the event today."
McRae finished fourth and a valiant drive by Ford's Francois Duval in the final two days gave him fifth position. Peugeot's new recruit Freddy Loix , standing in for the ailing Burns , gave Peugeot sixth in his WRC debut. "I am happy with the progress I have made with the car on this rally. For me it has been like a really good test," remarked Loix.