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Gronholm wins in Argentina

11 May 2003


Marcus Gronholm staged one of the most astonishing come back drives to win Rally Argentina, round five of the FIA World Rally Championship in his Peugeot 206 WRC.

The Finn started the day 15.2 seconds behind Markko Martin, but was leading when the cars came out of the first stage this morning. The engine failed on Martin's Focus, robbing him of the chance to fight with the reigning world champion over leg three's five stages.

Nobody could match Gronholm's time through the SS21, after which he had a 20.2-second lead over Carlos Sainz. Sainz - who had led the event until confusion between himself and co-driver Marc Marti left him booking into a control early and incurring a one-minute penalty - lost the runners-up spot to Richard Burns, who nosed his Peugeot ahead of the Citroen on the penultimate test, despite problems with the turbo on his 206. Those problems worsened on the final stage, however, dropping him back behind the Citroen.

Some consolation for Burns was that he still leads the driver's championship - by two points from Gronholm - while Peugeot remains at the front of the race for the manufacturer's award.

The Peugeots of Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera ran without any problems during leg three, but Burns' car suffered turbo problems on the final three stages.

Gronholm moved to the head of the field after the opening stage of the day and went into the final loop of stages with an 18.5 second advantage. He maintained that lead through the last loop of stages, winning the event by 26.6 seconds from Carlos Sainz.

Burns ensured that Peugeot held two of the three podium places by bringing his car home third. He was second for one stage, before turbo failure intervened.

Gronholm said: ''I am very happy to have come back and won this rally. When we hit the rock on the first day I thought there was no chance that I could get a result like this. We drove absolutely flat out this morning, but not taking any risks. The Fords have pushed us quite hard in some places, but this is a good result for me and for Peugeot.''

Burns added: ''The anti-lag system on the turbo stopped working for all of the last three stages, but then we had some sort of turbo failure eight kilometres from the finish of the final stage. I was happy to have got ahead of Carlos on the penultimate stage, given that it was difficult to drive the car without the ALS system. I was not happy at falling behind him on the last stage, but leading the championship is some small consolation.''

Rovanpera continued: ''After the terrible start to the season that I have had, I am quite glad to make it to the finish in fourth place. This is always a tough rally and this year has been more of the same. We had a few problems during the day, but okay we are here.''

At Citroen Sainz's Citroen Xsara WRC ran without mechanical fault through the final leg. Sebastien Loeb crashed off the road yesterday, while Colin McRae retired on Friday when his car caught fire.

Sainz dropped time to Gronholm on the opening test of leg three, but went quickest on the next stage. The Spaniard admitted he was pushing as hard as he could, and found himself embroiled in a battle for second place with Burns. Burns passed him on the penultimate stage, but Sainz re-passed him for the place on the final competitive section of the rally.

Sainz said: ''I have been going at the absolute maximum through the stages today. Marcus was always going to be very hard to beat, but I had hoped to keep Richard behind me. We had some small problems, nearly stalling on the start line of one stage and then nearly stalling in the middle of another stage. After the position we were in yesterday, this is disappointing, but still we have good points for the championship.''

Over at Subaru Petter Solberg's Impreza WRC03 ran without fault through the final leg.

Solberg spent another day altering the set-up of his car. He caught Francois Duval in SS22, losing some time in the Belgian driver's dust, but still made it home in fifth place, picking up four championship points. The team took the decision to withdraw Tommi Makinen at the end of leg two, happy with the test data they had gained throughout Saturday.

Solberg noted: ''You wouldn't believe how much we have changed the car over the past three days, but all of the time the car has been getting better and better. I am really growing in confidence with the suspension now. The gaps ahead and behind were big, so for us today was another test day.''

Team boss, David Lapworth commented: ''I'm very pleased with the way Petter and Tommi have performed. We had some new parts on the car here and they have worked very well. If you take away the time both of the cars lost, then you can see that we are right up the at the sharp end.''

Both Skoda Octavia WRCs ran without any mechanical problems during leg three. Auriol admitted that his car still didn't feel quite right on the bumpier stages, but he was doing enough to keep his team-mate Toni Gardemeister at bay. Both the Skoda drivers benefited from the retirement of Armin Schwarz, moving in to the sixth and seventh positions they would hold until the end of the event.

Auriol said: ''Today hasn't been too bad. We took off on the biggest jump on the second stage this morning and flew, the car landed on its side - it was very close to an accident. The biggest jump of my life. This has been a long event, and towards the end we were pushing really hard to try to catch Armin, but then he retired and we got the sixth place. I am happy with the result.''

Gardemeister continued: ''Looking at the times, you always start to wonder what the result would have been like without the penalty and without the problems we have had during the event. You can always say that, this is the way with rallying. The stages today have been good. It was strange this morning, maybe we were struggling with the traction or something, it felt good while I was driving - but the times were not so good.''

Ford's Martin retired with an engine problem 11.4 kilometres into the first stage this morning. Francois Duval suffered gearbox and engine trouble. Mikko Hirvonen's car ran without mechanical fault.

Martin's efforts to win his first ever round of the FIA World Rally Championship, came to nought in the first stage this morning. Duval had started the day seventh and would have moved up one place at the expense of his team-mate. Unfortunately he went in the opposite direction after gearbox problems and then engine problems slowed him on his run in through the final leg. He ended the event in eighth place.

Hirvonen enjoyed the final day more than either of the previous two. Running at the head of the field was an advantage for him, the warm, dry weather creating dusty conditions for those following him.

Martin said: ''The engine felt fine for the first ten kilometres of the stage, but then we started to lose power and the oil pressure warning light came on. I asked the team what to do and they told me to switch off, otherwise the engine would have been destroyed. This is another big disappointment. It was always going to be hard work keeping Marcus behind, but we would have given it a really good go. Certainly I think we could have kept Carlos and Richard behind.''

Duval continued: ''On the first stage this morning, we only had three gears [first, second and third] after one kilometre. Then it started to change gear by itself. On the second stage, the gearbox was stuck in second gear. Everything was getting very hot, the engine, transmission everything. The team changed the gearbox, but we still had problems on the final loop.''

Hirvonen noted: ''The car has been perfect today. I enjoyed the first two stages this morning, but then for the last three I decided not to push too hard, really I was just checking my notes. This is good experience for me to finish this event.''

Team boss Malcolm Wilson commented: ''I'm disappointed, but once again we have shown the pace that the car has. We always said that Greece would be a fair place to judge the new car. I'm sure that we will have got rid of these gremlins before then. We know what the problem is with the transmission on the car and I know it won't be a problem for the next rally.''

Hyundai's Armin Schwarz retired from the event on SS24. The engine on his Accent WRC had failed. Freddy Loix retired the sister car on day one with a broken boost pressure sensor.

Schwarz had maintained his sensible pace, holding sixth overall after the second run at the La Falda test. The German's only problem until then had been the dust on the first three stages. He had found visibility particularly difficult in the high-speed sections of the stage. Schwarz pulled over two kilometres from the end of the SS24, reporting engine failure.

A team spokesman said: ''We don't know exactly what the problem with the car is, but it sounds like it may be the head gasket. This is a big blow for Armin, Manfred and the whole team. Sixth place would have given both Armin and Hyundai a lot of points. It's a real shame. Armin had done precisely what we asked of him, driving to make sure he got to the finish. Then this happens, it's a tough sport.''

Of the other entries Toshi Arai dominated this third round of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship in his Subaru Impreza. The Japanese driver enjoyed a trouble-free run through the final five stages to arrive back in Villa Carlos Paz with more than 2 minutes advantage over Daniel Sola who had struggled with a puncture on the first day and then turbo trouble through the next leg.

British driver Niall McShea held second place, but his hopes of a big points score were wiped out on the final loop of stages, however, when the intercooler broke. Karamjit Singh took third in his Proton Pert.

Gabriel Raies was the leading non-factory World Rally Car. This was an emotional event for the local Toyota Corolla WRC driver. The 47-year-old bows out of the sport after 25 years, finishing the event in tenth position.



Rally statistics - Leg 3:

Starters: 41 crews (17 Group A and 24 Group N) started this morning.

Retirements: Martin (EE), Makinen (FIN), Schwarz (D) and other 7 drivers.

Today - Sunday 11 May: Leg 3 started from Carlos Paz at 06h35 and covered 324.36km, including 105.49km on five stages. The first car arrived back in Carlos Paz at 14h39.



Stage by stage summary - Leg 3:

SS21 San Marcos Sierra 3 (9.61kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 16m 49.2
2. Burns (GB) Peugeot 16m 58.5
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 17m 00.6

Leaders after SS21:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 18m 07.0
2. Sainz (E) Citroen 3h 18m 27.2
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 3h 18m 27.7

SS22 San Marcos Sierra-Cuchi 2 (22.57kms):
1. Sainz (E) Citroen 13m 04.6
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 13m 06.3
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 13m 08.2

Leaders after SS22:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 31m 13.3
2. Sainz (E) Citroen 3h 31m 31.8
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 3h 31m 35.9

SS23 La Falda 2 (9.37kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 6m 24.4
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 6m 25.8
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 6m 25.9

Leaders after SS23:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 37m 37.7
2. Sainz (E) Citroen 3h 37m 57.7
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 3h 38m 02.4

SS24 La Cumbre 2 (21.70kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 18m 23.6
2. Burns (GB) Peugeot 18m 27.4
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 18m 33.0

Leaders after SS24:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 56m 01.3
2. Burns (GB) Peugeot 3h 56m 29.8
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 3h 56m 35.1

SS25 Ascochinga 2 (28.83kms):
1. Sainz (E) Citroen 18m 36.5
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 18m 43.7
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 18m 51.5

Leaders in Carlos Paz after SS25:
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 4h 14m 45.0
2. Sainz (E) Citroen +26.6
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot +1m 12.8
4. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot +2m 19.3
5. Solberg (N) Subaru +3m 11.4
6. Auriol (F) Skoda +7m 58.5
7. Gardemeister (FIN) Skoda +8m 33.7
8. Duval (B) Ford +12m 35.3
9. Arai (J) Subaru +20m 01.7
10. Raies (RA) Toyota +20m 03.4

Production Car WRC leaders after SS25:
1. Arai (J) Subaru 4h 34m 46.7
2. Sola (E) Mitsubishi +2m 09.6
3. Singh (MAL) Proton +3m 26.7
4. Manfrinato (I) Mitsubishi +4m 25.2
5. De Dominicis (I) Mitsubishi +25m 04.3
6. Trivino (MEX) Mitsubishi +41m 47.6
7. Errani (I) Mitsubishi +56m 25.6



Final rally statistics:

Event: The rally covered 1454.89km, including 379.334km on 24 special stages (including 9 run twice). All stages were on gravel roads closed to other traffic.

Starters: 78 crews (31 Group A and 47 Group N) started the rally.

Finishers: 33 crews (14 Group A and 19 Group N) finished the rally.

Stage winners:
Gronholm (SS1-3-4-11-12-15-17-18-20-21-23-24)
Sainz (SS6-7-9-15-16-19-22-25)
Martin (SS10-13-15)
Rovanpera (SS8-15)
Burns (SS2-15)
Makinen (SS5)
Loeb (SS15)
Warmbold (SS15)
Raies (SS15)

shared times in bold
stage 14 was cancelled


Rally leaders:
SS1-SS8 Gronholm
SS9-SS19 Sainz
SS20 Martin
SS21-SS25 Gronholm


FIA World Rally Championships:

FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers (provisional standings after 5 of 14 rounds): Burns (GB) 32, Gronholm (FIN) 30, Sainz (E) 24, Loeb (F) 17, C. McRae (GB) 17, Solberg (N) 13, Martin (EE) 13, Makinen (FIN) 11, Duval (B) 9, Gardemeister (FIN) 9, Rovanpera (FIN) 5, Panizzi (F) 4, Auriol (F) 4 Robert (F) 3, A. McRae (GB) 3, Schwarz (D) 1.

FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers (provisional standings after 5 of 14 rounds): Peugeot 65, Citroen 52, Ford 29, Subaru 27, Skoda 19, Hyundai 3.

FIA Junior World Rally Championship (after 2 of 7 rounds, this event not counting): Tirabassi (F) 10, Katajamaki (FIN) 10, Ligato (RA) 8, Canellas (E) 8, Broccoli (RSM) 6, Wilks (GB) 6, Aava (EE) 5, Teuronen (FIN) 5, Cecchettini (I) 4, Ceccato (I) 4, others.

FIA Production Car World Championship (after 3 of 7 rounds): Arai (J) 20, Singh (MAL) 17, Blomqvist (S) 11, Rowe (GB)11, Ligato (RA) 8, Sola (E) 8, Al Wahaibi (OM) 6, Bourne (NZ) 5, Manfrinato (I) 5, Holowczyc (PL) 4, Ferreyros (PE) 4, De Dominicis (I) 4, others.


Next event: June 5 - 8 - Rally Acropolis.




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