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Gronholm looking good for Swedish success

2 February 2002


Peugeot driver Marcus Grönholm has tightened his grip on the second round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the Swedish Rally, which continued today.

The 2000 world champion set fastest times on all but one of today's six stages to ease clear of team-mate Harri Rovanpera. The two Finnish drivers have established a strong Peugeot one-two formation at the head of the field, with Rovanpera's nearest rival - third-placed Carlos Sainz - over a minute and a half behind.

The weather in the forests north of host town Karlstad has been considerably warmer in the last 36 hours, and the resulting thaw has left deep ice ruts on some of the roads and allowed gravel patches to poke through on others.

The unpredictable conditions have caught out several drivers - including points contenders Colin McRae and Jani Paasonen - and allowed less fancied runners to capitalise. Fast times from Kenneth Eriksson and Freddy Loix have kept Skoda and Hyundai in points positions for much of the day.

The Peugeot 206 WRCs of Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanpera have run reliably today, although Rovanpera has expressed concern at his car bottoming out over the ruts and bumps in later stages. Richard Burns's day has been basically troublefree too, although the Englishman's screen smeared right in his line of vision during SS8.

Grönholm knew he'd have to attack today to stifle the challenge from team-mate Harri Rovanpera and the 2000 world champion achieved his goal in a dominant fashion. He posted second fastest time on the day's opening stage and was unbeaten thereafter as he built his advantage up from 0.9 seconds last night to more than fifty seconds this evening. Rovanpera has already effectively settled for a second place that would give Peugeot a maximum score in the Manufacturers' series - last year's Swedish Rally winner has more than a minute and a half in hand over Carlos Sainz.

The third 206 WRC of Richard Burns has also charged today - despite a spin in SS7 the reigning world champion moved from an overnight 13th place to fifth by the end of today's last stage. He'll start tomorrow's final leg half a second behind fourth-placed Freddy Loix and just over half a minute behind third-placed Carlos Sainz.

Marcus Grönholm said: ''I feel confident. The conditions today have been much better for me and I've been able to attack. Unless we have a technical problem then I'm sure we'll be able to hold position and get a one-two for Peugeot. I've been pleased by my speed but I showed in Australia and Great Britain last year that I had this speed.''

Harri Rovanpera added: ''The fight is over. I don't think there's a chance to take 50 seconds from Marcus tomorrow and we have a good lead over Carlos (Sainz) so we can take good points for Peugeot. Of course I'm disappointed that we've lost the battle with Marcus but he's been doing really good times today and it hasn't been quite as good for us. We still have to concentrate anyway - there are still 130km of stages left.''

At Ford meanwhile the Focus RS WRC02s of Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz have been fine today. McRae started today well, setting fastest time on the opening (long) stage and even kick-starting the suggestion that he might be able to hunt down the two leading Peugeots. But then in SS7 he clipped a large rock on the inside of a corner and shattered his left-rear wheel. McRae and navigator Nicky Grist had to stop to change the wheel and they lost nearly three minutes, dropping to 14th overall. Although they recovered to 11th by the end of the day, they remain nearly a minute and a half off the points positions.

Carlos Sainz, meanwhile, has posted consistent top six times to move clear of Juha Kankkunen, Freddy Loix, Jani Paasonen and McRae. The Spaniard arrived back at this evening's final service in third overall.

Carlos Sainz said: ''Conditions today have not been so nice - it has been quite icy in places but then sometimes you get gravel coming through. It's good that we've moved up the order but we can't really relax just yet.''

His team-mate Colin McRae noted: ''The car was exiting a corner and it drifted a little but we were still on the road. Then we just heard a big bang and the wheel had shattered. We drove for about another kilometre before we could find a place to stop and change the wheel. I'm very disappointed. All we can do now is try as hard as possible, because we've got nothing to lose.''

At Hyundai the two Accent WRC2s of Juha Kankkunen and Armin Schwarz both hit transmission glitches this morning - they suffered a loss of hydraulic pressure that made the differentials malfunction. Freddy Loix's car has been reliable, however.

Loix has continued to challenge for a points finish in Sweden, despite feeling that the warmer weather conditions demanded an aggressive driving style that was hard given his foot injury. The Belgian moved past Jani Paasonen on today's opening stage and held fourth as the crews returned to Karlstad. His team-mates Juha Kankkunen and Armin Schwarz both hit transmission problems this morning - Kankkunen dropped to ninth as a result, while Schwarz was unable to mount a recovery after his time-consuming accident yesterday.

Freddy Loix said: ''I'm really enjoying myself - the car feels more like my style of car because you can steer it a bit on the throttle. The only thing that's worrying me slightly is that on the ruts, we need a bit more rebound in the suspension but if we make the car stiffer then we don't really know what'll happen in the slippery sections.''

Juha Kankkunen added: ''The car was hard to drive this morning without the hydraulics and even though the team tried to fix it I think there's still some air in the system - the diffs don't perform consistently throughout the stage. The roads aren't that nice here at the moment anyway - there's a lot of ruts and a fair amount of gravel.''

Skoda's Kenneth Eriksson, Toni Gardemeister and Stig Blomqvist have encountered no significant mechanical problems with their Octavia WRCs today.

Eriksson has enjoyed improved fortunes - after changing the centre differential settings on his Octavia, the Swedish veteran has moved up the leaderboard. His best performance came in SS8, where only rally leader Marcus Gronholm managed to beat his time. As a result, Eriksson had moved into the top six by early afternoon and as the crews returned to Karlstad this evening, he held sixth overall.

Team-mate Toni Gardemeister struggled to gain confidence in his car today and he rolled out of the event in SS11. Former world champion Stig Blomqvist occupies 17th, despite running second on the road today.

Kenneth Eriksson noted: ''The stage time was a little bit surprising but I pushed hard on that stage - I even went off slightly at one point. The change of settings on the centre diff has made the car more stable in the long corners and more predictable. I'm enjoying myself now but I'm not really thinking about positions. I'm taking it one stage at a time.''

The Mitsubishi Lancer WRCs of Alister McRae, Jani Paasonen and Francois Delecour have had no difficulties today. Paasonen's charge towards a points finish faltered though when the Finn spun in SS6 and dropped from fourth to sixth, and then in SS7 he clipped a rock and broke a wheel. The resulting time loss dropped him to 18th overall, with little chance of even a point.

Team-mate Alister McRae benefited from Paasonen's misfortune, and the problems encountered by his own brother Colin. After moving past Sebastian Lindholm and Juha Kankkunen this morning, the Scot arrived back at final service this evening in eighth overall. Francois Delecour, meanwhile, continues to experiment with set-ups on his Lancer but the Frenchman still lies outside the top 20 after his lengthy spell in a snow bank yesterday.

Jani Paasonen said: ''I did a spin at a junction on this morning's first stage. I pulled the handbrake but I forgot to use the clutch and the car just spun and stalled. Then in SS7 there was a rock on the inside of a corner and it broke the wheel. We had about half of the stage still to go so I stopped, 'phoned the team and checked if it was okay to continue. We got to the end of the stage and changed the wheel, but we'd lost a lot of time. I'm disappointed, because I really wanted to get into the points.''

His team-mate Alister McRae stated: ''I'm pushing hard and I've got good confidence in the car now. We've changed a few settings and it's certainly better in the twisty stuff than it was at the start - although there's still some work to do. I'm thinking about softening the suspension a little because the ruts and bumps are getting worse.''

Citroen's Thomas Radstrom picked up road penalties at first service this morning, because the Citroen mechanics had to change his Xsara's turbo and that wasn't possible within the allotted ten minutes. His and Sebastien Loeb's cars have run reliably thereafter, though. Loeb's Xsara has been handling to its drivers satisfaction after a complete transmission change yesterday evening.

Radstrom started today with little to gain but scratch times, but the Swede ended up losing even more seconds instead. In SS7 he clipped the same rock that claimed Colin McRae and Jani Paasonen, breaking both a wheel and a brake disc. The resulting damage meant that he had no rear brakes for SS8. Sebastien Loeb also clipped the rock but the young Frenchman survived to set third fastest time on the stage. Despite losing more time when he scooped snow into the front of the car in SS9, he has moved into the top 20 today.

Sebastien Loeb said: ''I went a bit too quickly into a right-hand corner in SS9 and then we went wide for the next left-hander. We clipped the snow bank and got snow into the front so we had to stop and clear it out to prevent overheating.''

Subaru's Petter Solberg was forced to retire the sole remaining Impreza on this morning's first stage when the car's engine lapsed onto two cylinders and it lost oil pressure.

Solberg said: ''Today we were going to start to push, because the road conditions were similar for all of us. Unfortunately 18km into the first stage the car went onto two cylinders, then the oil warning light came on and then it just stopped. There was no point in continuing because we checked and there was no oil in the car. It wasn't the situation as Tommi (Mäkinen) yesterday - I didn't hit a snow bank and in fact, the engine problem was on a long straight.''

Of the other entries private World Rally Car crews have slipped down the order during today's stages. Janne Tuohino lost time in SS7 and SS8 and dropped to seventh by the end of the day, while Sebastian Lindholm has fought hard to keep his 206 WRC in the top ten, despite pressure from Toni Gardemeister and Juuso Pykalisto.

Stig-Olov Walfrdsson lost the lead of the Group N category in SS8 thanks to electrical problems. His glitches should have allowed Kenneth Backlund to assume control but the Swede suffered a puncture, so Juha Kangas now leads the class from Daniel Carlsson. None of the leading cars have registered for the FIA World Championship for Drivers of Production Cars, though - Kristian Sohlberg remains on course to claim maximum championship points, ahead of Toshihro Arai and Marko Ipatti.


Rally statistics:

Starters: 68 cars (30 group A and 38 Group N) restarted the rally

Retirements: Solberg (N) and 3 other drivers

Today - Saturday 2 February:
Leg 2 started from Karlstad at 06h00 and covered 670.48km, including 129.09km on six special stages.

Tomorrow - Sunday 3 February:
Leg 3 starts from Karlstad at 06h00 and covers 509.27km, including 128.82km on five special stages. The first car is expected to arrive at the finish control in Karlstad at 16h15.

Weather forecast:
Mild and overcast, with chance of rain showers


Stage by stage summary - Leg two:

SS6 Granberget 2 (40.51kms):
1. McRae (GB) Ford 19m 59.7
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 20m 01.0
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 20m 05.8

Leaders after SS6:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 26m 12.9
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 1h 26m 18.6
3. McRae (GB) Ford 1h 26m 53.1

SS7 Fredriksberg 2 (18.14kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 9m 15.8
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 9m 28.1
3. Radstrom (S) Citroen 9m 30.6

Leaders after SS7:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 35m 28.7
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 1h 35m 46.7
3. Sainz (E) Ford 1h 37m 22.3

SS8 Lejen 2 (28.07kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 13m 58.4
2. Eriksson (S) Skoda 14m 03.1
3. Loeb (F) Citroen 14m 05.5

Leaders after SS8:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 49m 27.1
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 1h 49m 56.5
3. Sainz (E) Ford 1h 51m 31.4

SS9 Malta (11.25kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 5m 34.9
2. Radstrom (S) Citroen 5m 39.1
3. Sainz (E) Ford 5m 40.7

Leaders after SS9:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 55m 02.0
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 1h 55m 40.9
3. Sainz (E) Ford 1h 57m 12.1

SS10 Hara (11.91kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 5m 59.2
2. Radstrom (S) Citroen 6m 02.4
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 6m 03.5

Leaders after SS10:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 02m 01.2
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 2h 02m 44.4
3. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 04m 18.4

SS11 Torntorp 1 (19.21kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 10m 14.8
2. Sainz (E) Ford 10m 19.1
3. Radstrom (S) Citroen 10m 20.2

Leaders after SS11:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 12m 16.0
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot +50.1
3. Sainz (E) Ford +2m 21.5
4. Loix (B) Hyundai +2m 52.2
5. Burns (GB) Peugeot +2m 52.7
6. Eriksson (S) Skoda +2m 58.0
7. Tuohino (FIN) Ford +3m 18.4
8. A.McRae (GB) Mitsubishi +3m 19.6
9. Kankkunen (FIN) Hyundai +3m 37.3
10. Lindholm (FIN) Peugeot +3m 47.7





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