Gronholm in front in Sweden on day one
3 February 2006
Ford team leader, Marcus Gronholm has ended the opening day of the Uddeholm Swedish Rally - the second round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, on top.
Gronholm began the event in dominant style winning the opening two tests, to build a 19 second lead. However a spin in SS3 damaged his confidence, and although he was second quickest through SS4, SS5 and SS6, he couldn't match Sebastien Loeb, who cut back the deficit to 10.2 seconds going into Saturday's second leg.
Loeb was quickest through three of the days' tests, his only problem coming between SS1 and SS2 after the bonnet came loose on his Citroen Xsara WRC and hit the windscreen. As a result he checked in late to the time control before SS2, picking up a 10 second penalty. Without it he would have been just 0.2 seconds off Gronholm tonight...
Gigi Galli completes the provisional podium, the Italian flying in his privately entered Mitsubishi Lancer WRC, even setting the best time in SS3. In addition he also managed one third quickest time and three fourth quickest times and is around 40 seconds behind Loeb.
Daniel Carlsson also showed the potential of the Mitsubishi and after setting the pace in Thursday's shakedown proved it was no 'flash in the pan' by ending the day fourth.
Mattias Ekstrom meanwhile featured towards the front of the pack, the DTM racer going well on his home event. He ended the day fifth in his Red Bull backed Skoda Fabia WRC, ahead of OMV Peugeot Norway WRT duo, Manfred Stohl and Henning Solberg, in sixth and seventh respectively.
Kristian Sohlberg is on course for the final point for the Red Devil Atolye Kazaz squad, while Janne Tuohino and Thomas Radstrom round out the top ten.
Furtherdown the pack, Kosti Katajamaki went well on his debut in the Ford Focus WRC, entered by the Stobart VK team and is 11th. Daniel Sordo also impressed and is 4.3 seconds up on Xavier Pons, who is 13th and he is also in a Kronos Racing Citroen Xsara WRC.
Of the other manufacturer entries Matthew Wilson ended the day 16th, while Petter Solberg was 21st, Andreas Aigner 22nd, Chris Atkinson 26th and Mikko Hirvonen 33rd.
Solberg began the day badly, when a left-rear driveshaft broke after a heavy landing at the start of SS1. The Norwegian was able to continue to the end of the stage, but dropped nearly one minute on Gronholm. He pressed on in SS2, but conceded another two minutes and was outside the top twenty heading into the first service. Although he made progress thereafter, a gearbox problem in SS4 didn't help his charge, and he now lies nearly six minutes off the lead.
Atkinson also had difficulties in the second Subaru Impreza. He had been running fifth overall until he ran wide one kilometre from the start in Fredriksberg 2 [SS3]. The Aussie hit a snowbank before sliding into a ditch and hitting a tree with the front right-hand corner of his Subaru. The impact damaged the power steering, and although he rejoined he lost more than three minutes in SS3 - and had to muscle his way through SS4, conceding even more time. Atkinson was then given a penalty when he checked out of service B two minutes late after technicians raced to repair the car and replace the power steering rack. He ended the day over 7 minutes off the lead.
Aigner was another one that hit a snowbank in SS3 and left the road. Although he rejoined after spectators helped to lift the car, he lost four minutes.
Hirvonen however was probably the most unfortunate, he had been third since the off, when he was forced out on SS5 two kilometres from the end with an overheating engine. It is not yet not if he will be able to re-start under the SupeRally format, if he does he will be over 10 minutes behind his BP Ford team-mate, Gronholm.
In the Junior World Rally Championship category, Per-Gunnar Andersson heads the field in his Suzuki Swift. P-G is 24.8 seconds up on Patrick Sandell, while Peter Zachrisson completes the JWRC podium, ahead of Urmo Aava and Britain's Guy Wilks.
The second leg Saturday is again based around the Hagfors service park. After re-starting at 07.10 hours [local time], competitors face seven more stages covering 127.80 kilometres. Two of the tests are repeated and the final two are identical to today, comprising the long 39.95 kilometre Vargasen and the short sprint at Hagfors ski stadium. The leg ends at 18.38 hours [local time].