Rally GB: Solberg's hat-trick

Subaru's Petter Solberg has clinched his third consecutive Wales Rally GB win and kept his championship hopes alive after some spectacular driving on the final leg of this weekend's event. A storming effort through the penultimate stage all but guaranteed the Norwegian the win as Loeb was forced to settle for second.

Rally GB: Solberg's hat-trick

As soon as Citroen's Loeb began to draw out his lead on the beginning stages of the rally, it became obvious that the Frenchman was not going to take the event easy, despite his 30-point lead in the championship.

By the time Solberg and Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm, who later retired, realised the fact, they had nearly 20s to make up. Solberg made significant inroads into Loeb, but the Frenchman kept him at bay with a coupe of stage wins of his own.

The turning point came on SS18, the second run through the Margam test, and the penultimate stage of the rally. Leaving it so late in the day. Solberg's timing may have been questioned, but his charge through the test certainly wasn't as he powered through to take the stage win by 9.2s over Loeb.

He then finished off the rally in true Solberg style beating Loeb in the final head-to-head on the superspecial. The Norwegian was the third quickest on the stage, but it mattered not for his fourth win of the season tasted so much sweeter than the stage victory ever could.

"I think this was the biggest and most difficult win because I've never pushed so hard in my whole life as I think I did on those last couple of stages!" he said. "For the people watching and the spectators it must have been incredible! Sebastien is a very good driver, a really nice guy and it's been really good fun to have a fight with him."

Loeb added: "It has been very close all weekend, and we've been fighting for seconds on virtually every stage. I made a little mistake in the penultimate stage which cost me the win, but this is the nature of rallying."

Ford's Markko Martin brought his car home in third spot, a position he had occupied since Gronholm's retirement on the second stage of leg two. The Finn hit a post and wrecked his steering and while he made repairs to nurse his car to the finish of the stage he was forced to retire soon after.

Third spot is sure to satisfy Martin after a difficult rally that caused him problems from the start. Lacking grip on the soggy stages dropped him down the order on the first day followed by a loss of power mid-way through the second leg. He was then lucky his campaign didn't end in the ditch when he landed badly after a crest the same day.

No such dramas for Citroen's Carlos Sainz, who had to settle for fourth. The Spaniard suffered severe understeer on the first day and was never able to recover any of the time he lost. He came close to Martin following the Estonian's engine dramas, but he never became a real threat to the Ford driver.

Francois Duval secured fifth spot for Ford, at times such a lowly position seemed unjust following some scintillating driving. Most daring was his speed through the troublesome Epynt stages on the second leg. While most of his rivals complained about the treacherous stage, Duval put his head down to set the quickest time on both runs through the route. If the Belgian hadn't suffered from a lack of grip like his team-mate on the first day and a loss of front brakes, he could almost certainly have taken on Sainz and Martin.

With the battle for first and second causing the most fuss throughout the weekend, Peugeot Harri Rovanpera's battle for sixth with Subaru's Mikko Hirvonen was somewhat ignored. But it was a fantastic fight until the Peugeot driver eased ahead after dispensing with the Finn on SS14.

Ford privateer Mark Higgins looked a cert for the final points position, but fellow privateer Manfred Stohl took the slot after Higgins stopped on the penultimate stage with just a few kilometres left to run. He got it going again but finished down the order in 16th.

Skoda didn't have too much joy in Wales after successful outings in Finland and Germany, all three cars suffering problems. Young Finn Toni Gardemeister was the only one of the trio to finish, in 21st, after losing time on Saturday's second leg.

In terms of the championship, Solberg has taken two points out of Loeb's lead so that 28 points separate the two with four rallies left to contest. It'll be tough for Solberg, but all is to play for and, as has been shown today, it seems the Norwegian likes to leave it until the last minute to make his attack.

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