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Subaru drivers left high and dry by rally pull-out


Former world rally champion Petter Solberg is staying tight-lipped over his future following Subaru’s shock announcement that it is withdrawing from the World Rally Championship

Solberg has refused to answer reporters’ questions since the overnight announcement that sees the Prodrive-run works WRC campaign ended and leaving him and teammate Chris Atkinson without drives for 2009.

Also out of work are Solberg’s co-driver Phil Mills, and Atkinson’s navigator Stephane Prevot.

Solberg has confined his comments so far to a terse statement posted on his official website.

“I got information about the decision earlier today and need to evaluate the situation before I make any public statement,” he said.

“I understand that media and the public would like to have answers to all their questions right now, but I ask you all to be patient and wait until tomorrow.”

Both Solberg and Atkinson have contracts with Subaru until the end of 2009. Solberg has been with the Subaru works team since 2000, and won his world title with it in 2003. Atkinson has been there since 2005.

Subaru made its decision to withdraw from the WRC after talks with Prodrive boss, David Richards, last weekend and publicly announced it on Tuesday evening New Zealand time. It cited the global automotive sales downturn and financial crisis as its reason for leaving rallying.

Richards had dropped a hint, though no-one seemed to grasp the significance of it, in comments he made when Suzuki announced on Monday that it was withdrawing from the 2009 series.

Saying Subaru, Ford and Citroen were all assessing their participation in the championship “on an ongoing basis,” Richards added that the WRC would survive Suzuki's departure.

"When I was competing there were two manufacturers," he said. Richards used to co-drive-for Finland's Ari Vatanen and won the WRC with him in 1981.

"It was Ford against Fiat in those days and it was still great competition (next year it will be Ford against Citroen). The rallies themselves are populated by numerous private competitors, we (his Prodrive company) ourselves support hundreds of private Subarus around the world…

"So it's not purely about the manufacturers and it should never be considered as that," he said. "(Suzuki's departure) is disappointing for the short term for the championship whilst it restructures itself for 2010 onwards."

A Subaru representative flew from Japan to the south of France on Monday to tell Atkinson and Solberg face-to-face about the decision to withdraw from the WRC
Atkinson told reporters that it was “all still a bit of a shock. We put in four years at Subaru trying our best at every race. Now all I know is there’s nothing more planned.”

He said no-one from the Subaru World Rally Team had discussed the withdrawal with him. “The team haven’t spoken to me. Not a word. I guess that’s just the way it is.”

Photo captions: Atkinson and Prevot and Solberg and Mills in happier times.



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