Petter Solberg

Petter Solberg's trademark smile is broader than usual. In fact, it would probably rival the Severn Estuary for width today. The reason is simple: he's crossed the Severn Bridge and he's back in Wales. It's Rally GB time - his favourite rally in the world

Petter Solberg

Whether he likes it or not, however, this week's 12th round of the World Rally Championship is going to be an anti-climax. Two years ago he broke his WRC duck and won his first ever round of the championship. Last season, he clinched his first world title. Even if he's celebrating win number nine on Sunday afternoon, it's not going to be the same. Not that you'll be able to tell with Solberg. A win's a win and the celebrations are always extravagant. To say the least.

Solberg was at his hanging out of the car best in Japan earlier this month, with some reason. He'd arrived in the Far East on the back of a miserable run of three non-scores - the last of which included a terrifying 120kph crash in Germany - which had effectively erased his hopes of a successful defence to his title.

On the northern Island of Hokkaido, however, he was back to his best. There were no mistakes. On a rally crucial to the Japanese manufacturer, he delivered the perfect 10.
The emotions of Japan are still fresh in Solberg's mind.

"Japan was really very, very good," he says. "It was a difficult rally to drive, very technical, but everything worked for us. It was a good win. It was a very special event for Subaru, to come here and win in Japan was like a dream come true."

Japan, however, is behind him. This weekend, it's all about Wales.

On top of all his special memories of the rally itself, if Solberg wants to know everything that's good about the principality, he only has to ask the bloke sitting next to him. His co-driver, Phil Mills, is a proud Welshman.

"It's nice to come home for Phil," says Solberg. "It means a lot to be driving in his country. The fans are always very happy to see us, which is great."

Solberg has already been spotted by some of the more eagle-eyed spectators. The all-white Subaru Impreza recce car, which he's been driving the stages in for the last couple of days, might not stand out in the way the blazing blue WRC does, but the fans only have to catch a glimpse of the blond hair behind the wheel and the cheering starts.

"This is going to be an interesting rally," he says. "The change of date is going to make quite a difference. I know it's rained a little bit recently, but the roads do seem to dry out quite quickly. When they do, it will make them faster than ever. But the weather doesn't matter to me. Wet or dry, I love it. It's my favourite rally of the year and it's absolutely the best in the world. I have so many special memories of this rally. I can't wait to get started."

Courtesy of his win in Japan, his third maximum score of the season, he has moved into second place in the championship, which means he will start Friday's opening leg second on the road behind Citroen's Sebastien Loeb. The weather will play a big part in proceedings, if it does stay dry then the stages are likely to be covered in a layer of loose gravel which Loeb and Solberg will sweep clean offering a better surface for the runners following behind. If it's wet, their higher start number will favour them as the roads will cut up less.

There will be more than one set of anxious eyes peering skywards from behind the curtains early tomorrow morning.

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