Norwegian Petter Solberg will stay with the works Subaru WRC team until at least the end of 2006, after signing a three-year contract extension with the outfit.

Norwegian Petter Solberg will stay with the works Subaru WRC team until at least the end of 2006, after signing a three-year contract extension with the outfit.

The Norwegian joined Subaru in 2000 and claimed his first WRC win at the Rally of Great Britain on his way to finishing runner-up in the championship last year.

"The first priority for us has to be to sign a driver who can win rallies and championships and having worked with Petter for the last three years we're perhaps in the best position to make that judgement about his talent," said Subaru team principal David Lapworth.

Lapworth also confirmed that Solberg will be a number one driver, saying: "Whether he is exclusively number one or not remains to be seen. This year Petter and Tommi share the number one status and that works very well."

"But almost as important is the way the driver interacts with the people in the team and the way he helps motivate them as well as providing technical input. Petter has proven to be as much a team player as he is a fast driver. If you needed more, then I could add that Petter handles the media and the fans better than anybody. We're very happy to have him on board for the future."

The identity of Solberg's team-mate for next year is yet to be resolved. Makinen has been widely tipped to retire, although he has recently hinted that he might continue driving for another season, Richard Burns has also been tipped to move back to Subaru from Peugeot.

It's not yet clear who Solberg's team-mate for 2004 will be, or indeed how many cars Subaru will run, but Lapworth believes there are plenty of options. "There are a whole load of drivers out there that we'll be talking to," he says, "but having Petter takes some of the pressure off us, and maybe allows us to take some more adventurous choices on his team-mate or team-mates."

Though Makinen is widely rumoured to be contemplating retirement, Lapworth hasn't ruled him out of the equation yet. "Tommi certainly remains an option as Petter's team-mate," he says. "He has built a strong relationship with him and the rest of the team. At this stage our strategy for next year is not confirmed. Once we have a clear idea of the objectives, then we'll look to get the remaining drivers in place."

Original article from Car