Rally Australia: Solberg storms past Loeb

After battling hard with Sebastien Loeb for the best part of two days, Petter Solberg made the decisive move on the final day of Rally Australia, taking two stage wins to claim his third career WRC victory by the surprisingly comfortable margin of 26.6s

Rally Australia: Solberg storms past Loeb

The Norwegian made clear his intentions with the fastest time on the opening stage of the day, SS21, 5.7s faster than Loeb's Citroen. This gave Solberg the lead of the event for the very first time, although his advantage was a precarious 0.6s.

But Loeb wasn't going to surrender victory without a fight, and retook the lead with the fastest time on the next stage, pulling out 1.3s on Solberg.

By the time the crews lined up for SS23, rain had started falling, adding another complexion to the showdown. Solberg revelled in the conditions, flying through the stage 5.5s faster than anyone else. Loeb, meanwhile, struggled on his chosen tyres and dropped 9.3s, giving Solberg a handy lead going into the day's final stage.

Despite the worsening weather, Solberg flew through SS24 over 20s faster than Loeb to secure victory by a comfortable margin that belies the intensity of the battle waged between the two on the Australian stages.

Richard Burns had a lonely day on his way to third, nearly two minutes down on the lead pair. The same couldn't be said for Colin McRae, who emerged from a massive scrap with Citroen team-mate Carlos Sainz to claim fourth. The Spaniard eroded McRae's overnight lead on the first two stages, but the Scot pulled out the gap with the fastest time on the final stage to take the position by 6.5s.

Tommi Makinen dropped back from the Citroen pair over the day, but still did enough to ensure he finished a comfortable sixth, over a minute ahead of Harri Rovanpera. Freddy Loix claimed the final point for Hyundai.

Markko Martin, who had started the day in fourth position, was disqualified from the event overnight due to a technical infringement. After the ratchet mechanism that holds the spare wheel in place failed on his Ford Focus, the Estonian used a rock to jam it in place. This, however, violated the rules on ballast, which must be fixed in place on the floor of the cockpit.

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