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Finland - leg 1: Ford crushes rivals

3 August 2007

Marcus Gronholm has finished day one of the Rally Finland - the ninth round in the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship, on top, as he looks to notch up a record seventh win on his home event.

Gronholm though hasn't had it easy - and while he won eight stages, easily the most of anyone runner, his BP Ford team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen has kept him very honest and as result the double world champion has struggled to pull out a comfortable advantage.

Following the Thursday night super special, which was won by Subaru's Chris Atkinson, it was Ford 'B' team member Jari-Matti Latvala, who took the laurels on the first test today however, beating Hirvonen by 1.6 seconds, while Gronholm and Sebastien Loeb tied for third.

Next up was the 13.72 kilometre Mokkipera test [SS3] and this time it was the turn of Gronholm to set the pace, 2.1 seconds up on Loeb, while Hirvonen was third and Latvala plummeted down the order in his Stobart Ford as a result of a spin, which cost him over 2 minutes.

After that Palsankyla 1 was run and Hirvonen made it four different stage winners from as many tests, 1 second up on Gronholm. As such he moved into the lead overall, admittedly though, only by the narrowest of margins, just 0.1 seconds ahead going into Service B.

On the repeat runs in the middle of the day, Marcus was quickest on all three tests, however he was unable to pull out hardly any advantage on Hirvonen, who tied for the quickest time on SS6 - and was just 0.5 seconds slower in SS5 and 0.4 seconds slower in SS7.

It wasn't until the final three proper tests that Gronholm managed to get a bit of a gap, taking 1.7 seconds from Hirvonen in SS9 and another 1.1 seconds in SS10.

Following the second run through the Killeri super special, Marcus finished the day with a 4.4 second lead - and both he and Mikko have already shown that the new 2007 spec Focus, which is making its competitive debut in Finland, is very, very good.

Away from the battle for the lead, Citroen's Sebastien Loeb had to be content with ending the day third overall. The Frenchman was pushing as hard as he could but was unable to match the pace of the Fords and freely admitted that they were just not close enough.

In the end he finished the day around 20 seconds off his chief championship rival.

Chris Atkinson was next up in fourth, a further 25 seconds or so back in his Subaru. The Aussie had been near to Seb until a medium-speed spin in SS9, which cost him a good 8 seconds or so and dropped him back closer to his team-mate, Petter Solberg.

Petter endured a nightmare morning and was really unhappy with his Impreza on the first loop. Changes were made to the car in service B though and after that he was back on it, setting six quickest times from as many stages, including two thirds.

Further-down the order, Daniel Sordo may be over a minute off his Citroen C3 team-mate, but it was still a pretty good performance by the Spaniard, who is only doing this event for the second time in a WRC car. Dani set times consistently in the top ten throughout the day, but may need to up the pace on Saturday, if he is to hold off Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg, who is less than 10 seconds behind.

Henning struggled a bit with the set-up in the morning and then had some power steering issues in the afternoon, which hampered his cause some what.

OMV Kronos Citroen's Manfred Stohl completes the provisional points' scorers at this stage, 15-20 seconds or so up on Mitsubishi privateer, Juho Hanninen, who in turn is around the same up on Urmo Aava, who is also competing in a Lancer WRC 05.

Stohl was delighted to be back on the pace and even managed two top six times.

Of the rest, Subaru new boy, Xavier Pons ended the day eleventh, followed by Britain's Guy Wilks and Munchi's Ford team leader, Luis-Perez Companc, the latter two split by over a minute.

Stobart Ford's 'third' driver, Matthew Wilson and Andreas Mikkelsen round out the top 15, with Mads Ostberg 16th and Jan Kopecky 17th in his Skoda Fabia WRC.

In the Junior Rally Championship category, Martin Prokop has dominated, setting the pace in the JRC in six of the ten 'proper' tests. He ended the day just under 40 seconds up on reigning Junior champion, Patrik Sandell, while Jozef Beres completes the top three, 6 seconds up on Conrad Rautenbach's Citroen C2 S1600.

In terms of retirees, there were just two big casualties - namely Kristian Sohlberg and Latvala. Sohlberg went out on SS2, when he rolled his Lancer WRC 05, while Latvala, who was on a charge after a mistake in SS3, had to pull out in SS7 after damaging his car.

The Stobart Ford man will not be able to re-start under the SupeRally format on Saturday as the safety cage was damaged in the incident in Palsankyla 2.

The action now continues tomorrow, with SS12, the 13.46 kilometre-run through Kaipolanvuori getting underway at 07.17 hours local time [05.17 hours British time].

Leg 2 features nine tests in total and is the longest leg of the event, comprising over 180 competitive kilometres. Stay tuned to Crash.net for more as the event continues.


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