On this day in... 2003

09th November 2017
Henry Hope-Frost

The climax to the 2003 World Rally Championship season – for drivers and manufacturers – came down to an 18-stage showdown in the forests of Wales, as Rally Great Britain, sponsored by the host nation for the first time, played host to rallying’s elite.

After the previous round in Catalunya, four drivers were set to battle for title victory in Wales. Sébastien Loeb was tied on 63 points with Citroën team-mate and former double World Champion Carlos Sainz, while Subaru star Petter Solberg was just one point adrift. Having scored his maiden WRC win on the event 12 months earlier, the Norwegian, co-driven by Welshman Phil Mills, was favourite for honours. Englishman Richard Burns, who knew all about what it took to land the title on home soil, had 58 points to his name.

Sadly for British fans, four became three when Burns was taken ill on the way to the event. It would mark the start of his two-year fight with a brain tumour.

It thus came down to a winner-takes-all scenario; whichever of the three won the rally would secure the title. 

Once the event got underway on the Thursday evening, Solberg drew first blood by topping the spectator-friendly Superspecial stage in Cardiff docks to lead the rally.

Title rival Loeb fought back in the first proper stage on the Friday morning, the 23km Brechfa test, to assume control at the front. The Frenchman won SS3 Trawscoed as well, holding on to a small advantage over Solberg.

The Championship battle became a two-man race when Sainz crashed in Trawscoed in the #19 Xsara WRC, the car too far off the road to be able to continue.

Solberg, with one less title rival to worry about, began to stamp his authority on the event with fastest time through the rally’s longest timed sections, the 32km Rheola SS4 and 43km Resolfen SS5 stages. Once back in the lead, the #7 Subaru would stay there for the remainder of the event.

Loeb beat Solberg in the second run through Rheola by a scant 1.6s, before the leader went on a nine-stage rout to pull further ahead after SS15, the third run round Cardiff docks that bought the second leg of the rally to a close

At the start of the short but decisive final leg, 14 years ago today (November 9th), Loeb topped SS16 and 17, the two, 30km runs through Rhondda but it was too little too late. 

Solberg made sure of rally and title victory by topping the final stage, Margam Park. His margin over Loeb was 43.6s, the two title protagonists having won all 18 stages between them. He arrived in the grounds of the south Wales stately home to incredible scenes, led by large Norwegian contingent that had come over to support him.

Solberg’s team-mate Tommi Mäkinen finished third in his swansong event, the Finn one of the first to congratulate the new World Champion. Former World Champion Colin McRae took fourth in his final full-time ride with Citroën, helping the French marque to secure its first Constructors’ crown.

Loeb, who’d fallen short in his quest to win the title by just a single point, would have to wait 12 months to start a period of WRC domination that would last for nine years! 

Wales Rally GB, 2003

1. Petter Solberg (N)/Phil Mills (GB) – Subaru Impreza WRC2003, 3h28m58.1s

2. Sébastien Loeb (F)/Daniel Elena (MC) – Citroën Xsara WRC, +43.6s

3. Tommi Mäkinen (FIN)/Kaj Lindstrom (FIN) – Subaru Impreza WRC2003, +2m58.8s

4. Colin McRae (GB)/Derek Ringer (GB) – Citroën Xsara WRC, +5m28.1s

5. François Duval (B)/Stéphane Prevot (B) – Ford Focus RS WRC03, +7m16.1s 

6. Freddy Loix (B)/Sven Smeets (B) – Peugeot 206WRC, +8m06.5s

Photography courtesy of LAT Images

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