Solberg starts title push with victory in Sweden

Petter Solberg put his world championship campaign back on track with victory in the Swedish Rally yesterday as his principal rivals hit trouble.

Petter Solberg put his world championship campaign back on track with victory in the Swedish Rally yesterday as his principal rivals hit trouble.

Solberg started the day locked in a battle with Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm but was left in a clear lead when the Finn crashed out on stage 16. Solberg, driving a Subaru, carefully negotiated the final snowy stages to secure a comfortable victory and put himself back in the title race.

The world champion, Sébastien Loeb, who won round one in Monte Carlo two weeks ago, was on course for second place when his Citröen Xsara developed engine trouble, which eventually forced him out on the penultimate stage. Markko Martin, of Estonia, recovered from a slow start to creep up the leaderboard and his two stage wins yesterday helped him claim second place overall for Peugeot.

Toni Gardemeister claimed his second consecutive podium finish for his new employers Ford with third place after a careful three-day effort. Mitsubishi's recent resurgence continued with Harri Rovanpera taking fourth place while Henning Solberg, older brother of Petter, brought his Ford home in a credible fifth.

The younger Solberg was overjoyed after finally taking his first win in Sweden, cheered on by hundreds of fans from Norway. "It's incredible," he said. "It has been a dream for me to win this event for years, and the support of the fans from Sweden and Norway this weekend has been great. "Also, I can't tell you how much work the team have put in before this rally after the disappointment of Monte Carlo."

Solberg's win puts him back in the title chase, although the championship is led by Gardemeister. The Finn is enjoying his lofty position, leading by a point from Martin, and feels it is just reward for Ford's consistency.

"To be leading both world championships is a superb situation for both myself and Ford," Gardemeister said. "I've never been in this position before."

Swedish Rally Leading final positions: 1 P Solberg (Nor) Subaru 3hr 00min 52.1 sec; 2 M Martin (Est) Peugeot 3:03:03.2, 3 T Gardemeister (Fin) Ford 3:04:06.8, 4 H Rovanpera (Fin) Mitsubishi 3:04:18.5, 5 H Solberg (Nor) Ford 3:04:21.9, 6 D Carlsson (Swe) Peugeot 3:04:34.6, 7 G-L Galli (Ita) Mitsubishi 3:04:56.1, 8 R Kresta (Cze) Ford 3:05:31.7, 9 J Paasonen (Fin) Skoda 3:05:43.2, 10 M Ekstrom (Swe) Skoda 3:07:56.3 Overall standings: 1 Gardemeister 14, 2 Martin 13, 3= P Solberg 10, S Loeb (Fra) Citröen 10, 5 Rovanpera 7, 6 G Panizzi (Fr) Mitsubishi 6, 7 M Gronholm (Fin) Peugeot 4, H Solberg 4 9= Carlsson (Swe) 3, M Stohl (Aut) Citröen 3. Teams: 1 Ford 20, 2 Peugeot 17, 3 Mitsubishi 17, 4= Citröen 11, Subaru 10, 6 Skoda 3

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