Birthday win for Gronholm in Sweden
5 February 2006
BP Ford team leader Marcus Gronholm has triumphed on the Uddeholm Swedish Rally giving himself the perfect birthday present, as he turned 38 today.
The Finn dominated the event leading from the off on Friday, after he began with two stage wins.
Although Sebastien Loeb was never far behind as the event crept on, so Gronholm pulled ahead winning five more tests on Saturday and adding another three to his tally on Sunday. Although the final day was not without its dramas after a hydraulic leak on SS16, the Finn ended the event 30.9 seconds ahead.
The victory was the 20th of his career and his fourth in Sweden, it was also incidentally his second successive success with Ford, since joining them for 2006 and winning the season opening, Rallye Monte Carlo.
Loeb meanwhile had to settle again for the runners-up spot, as he did two weeks ago at the Principality. The Frenchman, who was somewhat hampered after he picked up a 10-second penalty on Friday, for checking in late to the time control before SS2, never really looked like overhauling Gronholm, even if on occasion he was just as quick – if not quicker. Loeb won eight tests in his Kronos ran Citroen Xsara WRC but was the first to admit at the finish that he just didn't have the same speed as Gronholm.
"I would have liked to win here but we could not compete with Marcus," he confirmed. "We tried all combinations of tyres and studs but we could not match the performance of Marcus."
Daniel Carlsson took the final spot on the podium after an exciting scrap with Gigi Galli, which saw the two Mitsubishi privateers never much more than a few tenths apart throughout much of the second and final leg. Carlsson eventually took third by 7 seconds, after Galli lost third gear in the final test, something that dropped him back - prior to that they had been separated by less than a second.
Thomas Radstrom was elevated to fourth position right at the death, after Janne Tuohino stopped 500 metres from the end of the last stage with an engine problem on his PH Sport ran Xsara. He was eventually classified 10th under the new SupeRally rules.
Kosti Katajamaki took sixth on his first ever WRC event in a World Rally Car, in the process he helped to open the account for the Stobart VK team, Ford's B team, which scored 7 manufacturers' points - six courtesy of Katajamaki, while Matthew Wilson was 14th to bag the final constructors' point.
Of the rest Xavier Pons was seventh in the second Kronos Citroen Xsara WRC, a good 25 seconds or so up on Henning Solberg who was eighth to nab the last drivers' point in his Bozian ran OMV Peugeot 307.
Jimmy Joge was ninth, while Subaru WRT driver, Chris Atkinson was just outside the top ten, followed by SupeRally re-starter, Mikko Hirvonen. His event was compromised after he missed the final two stages on Friday, picking up two 5 minute penalties, if you minus these then the Finn would have scored a comfortable third in the second works BP Ford Focus.
Further down the field amongst the more noticeable finishers, Jan Kopecky secured 13th in his Czech ran Skoda Fabia WRC, while Juho Hanninen took the Group N victory 15th overall, followed by Daniel Sordo, Jukka Ketomaki and Manfred Stohl in 16th, 17th and 18th respectively. Stohl re-started this morning under the SupeRally format after going off the road in SS11. 1984 FIA World Rally champion, Stig Blomqvist also finished, 24th overall in his Subaru Impreza Sti WRX.
Of retirees both Red Bull Skoda drivers failed to make it to the finish, with DTM star Mattias Ekstrom and Andreas Aigner both retiring this morning on the opening loop. The latter was on course to finish fifth and score his first ever WRC points, prior to his off on SS15. Red Devil Atolye Kazaz driver, Kristian Sohlberg also looked set to finish in the points, although he had to retire right at the end of leg two, with engine problems.
As for Subaru WRT number one driver, Petter Solberg he finished the event 21st overall but was later excluded for failing to start SS18 within the allocated time. The Norwegian was dogged by problems throughout and will no doubt be glad to see the back of this event. "The rally has been a complete disaster," he noted. "We only have had two good stages."
In the Junior World Rally Championship category 14 runners were classified at the finish, the honours going to Per-Gunnar Andersson who lead practically throughout the event. P-G beat Renault Clio driver, Patrick Sandell by 53.1 seconds, to give the Suzuki Swift its first Junior win. Fellow Suzuki users, Urmo Aava and Pavel Valousek were third and fourth, while Kalle Pinomaki rounded out the top five. Britain's Guy Wilks finished, albeit just outside the points, in ninth.
The WRC now heads to Mexico in a month's time, for the first long-haul round of the season and also the first gravel event. Rally Mexico is based in Leon and runs from March 2-6.