Analysis: Grim Day for the Sport

The death of Peugeot's British co-driver Michael Park cast a pall over the Rally of Britain on Sunday

Analysis: Grim Day for the Sport

The final stages were cancelled following the fatal accident - the first in the Championship for more than a decade - with cars returning to rally headquarters in Cardiff for the formal finish.

On a grim day for the sport, Park's grieving team announced their immediate withdrawal from the event.

Citroen's race leader Sebastien Loeb, who would have clinched his second successive Championship as a result, then took time penalties to ensure he did not win in such circumstances.

Norwegian Petter Solberg, in a Subaru, therefore 'won' the race for the fourth year in a row with Citroen's Belgian Francois Duval second and Loeb third to keep the Championship open until Japan next month.

Park, 39, from Newent in Gloucestershire, was partnering Estonian Markko Martin who was unhurt in the 15th stage accident.

Peugeot, Citroen's stablemates in the PSA Group, said Martin went off the road and hit a tree on the passenger side.

"It is with deep regret that the organisers of Wales Rally GB confirm that Michael Park... has been fatally injured," a statement said. "Next of kin have been informed."

Rallying has always been a dangerous sport, with spectator safety a particular concern, but fatal accidents have become rare at World Championship level.

The last similar incident was in the Rally of Australia in 1993 when co-driver Rodger Freeth was killed when the Subaru driven by the late New Zealander Possum Bourne rolled after a series of jumps.

In 1985 and 1986 respectively, Italian driver Attilio Bettega and leading Finn Henri Toivonen as well as his co-pilot Sergio Cresto were killed in the Rally of Corsica.

Peugeot Mourn

Park, nicknamed 'Beef', was a highly-experienced co-driver who had worked with former Champions Richard Burns and Colin McRae.

Married with two children, he teamed up with Martin in 2000 when the Estonian was rallying a privately-entered Toyota.

They stayed together at Subaru and Ford before moving to Peugeot this year.

The pairing had won five rallies and were the only ones to have scored points in every event this year, starting the weekend fourth in the Championship.

Martin, whose team were just six points behind stablemates Citroen in the manufacturers' Championship before Sunday, was in sixth place at the time of the accident.

"A serious accident has left the Peugeot team in mourning," the French carmaker said in a statement.

"Peugeot Sport director Jean-Pierre Nicolas, with the agreement of Mr Frederic Saint-Geours, managing director of Peugeot, has decided as a sign of mourning to withdraw the car of Marcus Gronholm and (co-driver) Timo Rautiainen.

"Peugeot Automobiles and Peugeot Sport would like to express their feeling of extreme sadness and deep emotion to the family of Michael Park."

The governing body, the FIA, also offered their condolences as did other teams.

Hushed Stadium

The leading drivers turned off their cars' engines and held a minute's silence on arrival at the finish in a hushed Millennium Stadium. There was no winner announcement and no champagne celebration.

Loeb had been heading for a record ninth win of the season, and first in Britain, until the crash.

Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm, Loeb's closest rival in a Championship that has become a foregone conclusion, was in third place and a further 41.8 behind.

Loeb had needed to beat Gronholm by eight points to retain his World Championship with four rounds to spare.

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Series WRC
Author Alan Baldwin
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