A mere point separates Sebastien Loeb, Carlos Sainz and Petter Solberg in the battle for the WRC title, and after 13 gruelling events it will all be settled at the British Rally this weekend.

A mere point separates Sebastien Loeb, Carlos Sainz and Petter Solberg in the battle for the WRC title, and after 13 gruelling events it will all be settled at the British Rally this weekend.


Britain's round of the World Rally Championship has always produced classic conflicts in the forests of Wales and the 2003 season finale promises to be the most hotly contested battle for many years.


The ultimate goal for Loeb, Sainz and Solberg is the coveted world rally title and each man will feel the pressure on that Cardiff start ramp ahead of tonight's first superspecial stage.


Dashing young Frenchman Sebastien Loeb is an acknowledged tarmac expert so may be at a disadvantage on the Welsh gravel. However, his performances on the loose have improved enormously during the year (he nearly won in Australia) so a measured attack from the Frenchman could see him become only the second French World Champion after Didier Auriol back in 1994. With a well-sorted and reliable Citroën Xsara, Loeb could be regarded as a good bet for the title.


Spanish legend Carlos "El Matador" Sainz is the most experienced driver of the lot. He shares the highest number of WRC wins with Colin McRae and has scored the most points in a magnificent career that started in 1987. There is nothing Sainz doesn't know about the event - he won both of his previous titles (1990 and 1992) on British Rally showdowns so he's acutely aware of what he needs to do.


A third title for Sainz would be well-deserved and his ultra reliable attitude towards the job - not to mention the potent Xsara WRC - will help him on his way.


However, Norwegian star Solberg is on a roll for Subaru. Three wins in Cyprus, Australia and Corsica have propelled the Norwegian into the thick of the action and, with a maiden WRC victory in Wales last year, this is one event Solberg loves.


The Impreza WRC is expected to be easy to drive on the classic British stages and, with the guiding light of co-driver Phil Mills, Solberg will be hard to beat.


Nevertheless, several other drivers will be more than a match for our three title contenders on this event. In all likelihood the three championship players might want to settle for valuable points - subject to what their rivals are doing or have done, of course - leaving the way clear for Marcus Gronholm, Markko Martin or perhaps even Colin McRae to win the event.


Outgoing world champion Gronholm must be a favourite - he's won the British Rally before and the Peugeot driver hasn't tasted the winner's champagne for several months. As will Martin... the Ford ace has already won two of the toughest events on the calendar this year - Greece and Finland - and he should perform well in Wales, too. Last year, the Estonian lost out to Solberg on the final day after a thrilling battle.


McRae, in his last drive for Citroën and possibly his last WRC event for a year, could leave on a high. He loves this event and he's won it enough times to know what to do.


Here is how the title fight could be settled: Loeb, Sainz and Solberg will automatically become world champion of they win the event outright, regardless of the finishing positions of the others.


Sainz must finish one point or more ahead of Loeb to win. Loeb must finish one point or more ahead of Sainz to win, Solberg must finish two points or more ahead of Loeb and Sainz to win. If all three drivers retire, Loeb and Sainz will tie on points but the Frenchman will be champion, on account of his having won more rallies during the year.


And if Solberg and Loeb tie on points (this will happen if they finish third and fourth, fourth and fifth, fifth and sixth, sixth and seventh or seventh and eighth) and Sainz is behind them Loeb will be champion because he has had more second places in 2003. The number of wins cannot be considered because they have both won three rallies.