Solberg's clean sweep

Rally of Great Britain
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The Independent Online

Petter Solberg continued on his inexorable way, every surge and turn acclaimed by his delirious countrymen out on the wind-blasted moors of South Wales.

They will not accept this is going to be a hollow victory for the 28-year-old Norwegian, even though Citroën admit they had restrained their own supposed contender for the World Rally Championship, Sébastien Loeb.

Citroën's priority, they explained, is the manufacturers' title, so the Frenchman, like Britain's Colin McRae, must avoid risks and ensure their team stay ahead of Peugeot. They came into Rally GB with a five-point advantage over Peugeot and are on course to achieve their objective.

Solberg won all yesterday's authentic stages, establishing a lead of more than 40 seconds over Loeb. Unless the Subaru driver makes a mistake or his car expires, he will be confirmed as the world champion this afternoon.

Solberg will be recognised as a worthy holder of the title. He has the looks and personality to match his skills and dedication, and represents a new generation of drivers who are forcing the old guard to the margins. But Citroën's policy has seriously compromised the credibility of this "competition'' and short-changed the legions of spectators who have been willing to expose themselves to the elements.

Max Mosley, the president of Fia, motorsport's governing body, has clamped down on team orders in Formula One, but sees no justification to take action against Citroën.

"This doesn't look good for the sport, but Citroen are here to win the manufacturers' championship and that's up to them," Mosley said. "They are entitled to win as a team. This is an anti-climax, and it's sad for the organisers, because a week ago they had four contenders for the championship. Richard Burns had to withdraw because of illness and Carlos Sainz went out on the first day. But it's not over yet."

Subaru and Solberg also contend the issue is far from settled. "Loeb still wants to win this championship as much as I do," Solberg said. "I'm not going on a crazy attack, but I still have to push, because Loeb is right there.

"I need to build up as big a lead as possible, because something could happen to me and give me problems. If I win this championship it will not be a hollow victory."

Solberg began the day eight points ahead of Loeb and increased his advantage on all seven of the forest and moorland stages. The supporting duel, also between a Subaru and Citroën driver, was similarly restricted.

McRae, who loses his drive with Citroën after this rally and has yet to find another one in the World Championship, is having to go out with an uncharacteristically cautious drive. Three times a winner of this event and world champion in 1995, he dare not strive too hard for the third place that would represent a measure of solace.

McRae is involved in a tussle with his long-time rival, Tommi Makinen, who retires after this event, but will reign in his natural instincts to comply with Citroën's wishes. The Scotsman said: "I'd like to go out with a podium finish, and the car has been a lot better today. My times have been up there with Tommi's. But I can't risk pushing too much. I wouldn't be very popular with the team if I went on."

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