Solberg's flat-out pledge

Petter Solberg has predicted that the WRC will experience "one hell of a season" in 2004, and has promised to drive flat-out in a bid to defend his crown

Solberg's flat-out pledge

Appearing on stage at AUTOSPORT International, the exuberant Norwegian predicted a strong challenges from Sebastien Loeb, Markko Martin and Marcus Gronholm, and also gave his backing to new team-mate Mikko Hirvonen.

Asked if he expected his Subaru Impreza to struggle on asphalt Solberg said: "Well, we won a tarmac rally last year, so it can't be all bad. Anyway, it's not too bad if you don't drive quickly on every rally - it's the end result that counts. OK, we won four rallies and that's good. For this year, I tell you, we're going to go flat out - top form - and I think it's going to be one hell of a season."

Solberg's major title struggle last season came from Sebastien Loeb, and the Norwegian expects the Citroen star was be among his chief rivals in 2004.

"Loeb is good. He's very good. He's a good sportsman. He gives everything of himself. Also, Markko Martin will be good, and Marcus [Gronholm] will always be there."

Solberg was due to be partnered by Richard Burns in 2004, but because of the Briton's brain tumour he will instead be partnered by Hirvonen.

"First of all, I'm really hoping that Richard will get well and feel better. But Mikko is a young guy, and I think he'll do well. He does need a little more experience, but he's a good, young talent. He's a man of the future, definitely."

Solberg was also reminded of his somewhat emphatic celebrations when he clinched the title following the Wales Rally GB, which saw him stage-dive into his loyal fans live on television.

"I looked at the TV pictures myself recently - I looked quite stupid jumping around like that," he said. "But what can I say? It was really, really good."

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