Tue, Nov 11, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Party time for new world rally champ

REUTERS , CARDIFF

Disco-dancing Norwegian Petter Solberg was walking on air on Sunday after becoming his country's first world rally champion.

One year on from celebrating his first world rally championship success in Britain, the Subaru driver blasted through the Welsh forests to repeat the feat and claim his first title.

It was a remarkable performance from a driver who started the season-ending rally one point behind Citroen's championship leader Sebastien Loeb.

His romp to victory capped a dream season for a man who could easily have been ruled out of the championship altogether last month when he almost careered off a cliff in Corsica while preparing for a race that he ended up winning.

He was saved by a telegraph pole then and that luck continued in Britain as he suffered a high-speed blowout and a jarring impact with a pothole.

Solberg, who once won a dancing competition as a youngster, donned a horned Viking helmet and brandished a flag after clinching the title.

"I can't get [take] it in yet, it's too much at a time," he gasped at a news conference later. "You know, I haven't done much in my life really.

"I have been driving cars since I was six years old. I haven't done anything else. And now I'm world champion."

Solberg grew up driving around the field on his parents' farm near Oslo and, too young to compete in rallies, took his first title as a 13-year-old -- winning the Norwegian radio-controlled car championship.

He joined Subaru in 2000 and his partnership with four-times world champion Tommi Makinen flourished.

The Norwegian, who turns 29 on Nov. 18, can now celebrate down on his farm with the fans.

Last year 2,500 turned up to party after his first success.

He can expect many more this time.

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