In what was described as “the most fantastic battle in the WRC for years”, Subaru’s Petter Solberg exploited the wet conditions in the closing stages of the Australian Rally to snatch victory from Citroën star Sébastien Loeb.

In what was described as “the most fantastic battle in the WRC for years”, Subaru’s Petter Solberg exploited the wet conditions in the closing stages of the Australian Rally to snatch victory from Citroën star Sébastien Loeb.


After battling hard with Loeb for the best part of two days, Solberg made the decisive move on Sunday, the final day of Rally Australia, taking two stage wins to claim his third WRC victory by a comfortable margin of 26,6s.


David Lapworth, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal, said: "It's probably been the most fantastic battle in the WRC for years. It's been such a close gap, never more than a few seconds between Petter and Sebastien. Our Pirelli tyres had the edge when it got slippery and (Solberg’s team-mate) Tommi Makinen helped the team improve its position in the manufacturers' standings."


"I'm very happy,” Solberg added. “It was a big battle again. I hate going into the last stage leading, and much prefer being slightly behind and going for it, but today has been great. It's good for me to have these type of fights, and I feel I'm a better driver after the last two events”.


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.


Peugeot’s 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 Citroën 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 Citroën pair over the day, but still did enough to ensure he finished a comfortable sixth, over a minute ahead of Peugeot’s Harri Rovanpera. Freddy Loix claimed the final point for Hyundai.


Ford Focus RS 03 WRC driver 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.

Original article from Car