Solberg re-asserts Nordic dominance in Sweden
13 February 2005
Subaru's Petter Solberg took the victory on the Swedish Rally this afternoon, taking the win by over 2 minutes, after his nearest rivals, Marcus Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb, both retired during the third and final leg.
Solberg, who battled with Gronholm on and off since the start on Friday, was finally able to take it easy after SS16, when the Finn went off the road in his Peugeot 307, losing the left front wheel in the process.
After that the Norwegian eased off and cruised to his first win of the season and his first in Sweden, in seven attempts.
"It's a great feeling, like a big dream, I almost can't believe it's true," said 'Hollywood', who has restored Nordic dominance following 'the blip' last year when Loeb won.
"This rally is so special but it has been tough for me in the past, and now this year it's just gone perfectly. We made no mistakes all rally - not in the car, or in the team, or anywhere - it just all came into place so well," he added.
Markko Martin meanwhile ended up second and after a rather uneventful event for the Estonian it was a good boost, as he continues to learn the 307. It was also some consolation for Peugeot, who were no doubt not too pleased with his team-mate.
"I am a little surprised to finish second here," admitted Martin. "It was an action-packed rally with nothing decided right until the very end. I learnt a lot about the set-up of my car and about the new Pirelli tyres. I was very pleased by their performance – they were very fast and retained the studs extremely well despite the difficult and gravely road conditions."
Toni Gardemeister completed the podium, the Finn getting another top-three result for Ford in only his second event. Ford now leads both the drivers' and manufacturers' championships.
"To be leading both world championships is a superb situation for both myself and Ford," commented Gardemeister. "I've never been in this position before. My pace wasn't so good on the first day but I've felt much more comfortable since and gained a lot more confidence in the car. I took no risks but just kept to a speed with which I felt happy. We had some luck with the retirement of drivers ahead of us, but the Focus is a strong car and while others had problems, we didn't."
Gardemeister's team-mate Henning Solberg took fifth, around 15 seconds or so further down the road, while Roman Kresta took the final drivers' point in eighth, in the third Focus.
Harri Rovanpera was fourth for Mitsubishi, to justify his position as team leader. Rovanpera had been rather shown up by team-mate, Gigi Galli on Friday however in the end he got the upper hand, although to be fair the Italian had a few technical issues yesterday, which dropped him down the leader-board.
"In the end it was a good weekend for Risto and I," noted Harri. "During the first day and a half I never thought a result like this was possible, but now the feeling is good and my confidence with the car is much better. Next week we will be gravel testing and I am looking forward to going to Mexico."
Galli finished seventh in the sister Lancer WRC, one place behind, Daniel Carlsson, in the third works 307.
Skoda duo, Jani Paasonen and Mattias Ekstrom completed the top ten, with Antony Warmbold eleventh, the top privateer. The only other works drivers at the finish were Francois Duval, in 12th, Stephane Sarrazin, in 13th and Chris Atkinson, who ended up 19th.
Atkinson had been on course for a top ten finish on his debut WRC event however he went off the road in SS18 and lost handfuls of time stuck in a snow bank - more than 12 minutes.
In addition to Gronholm and Loeb, Janne Tuohino was also forced out, the Swede retiring after losing a wheel in the penultimate test.
In the Production Car WRC category meanwhile Toshi Arai led from start to finish, finishing one place behind overall Group N winner, Jukka Ketomaki.
The FIA World Rally Championship now heads to North America for the first long-haul event of the season. Corona Rally Mexico [March 10-13], running for the second year in the world series, is the first full gravel event of the year and promises more fast and furious action in the mountains high above the host city of Leon.