Finnish driver Marcus Grönholm has scored a dominant win on the second round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the Swedish Rally.
The 2000 world champion was rarely troubled after he built up a substantial lead yesterday [Saturday], and he and navigator Timo Rautiainen were able to relax in today's [Sunday's] closing few stages to move to the top of the championship standings.
Their team-mates Harri Rovanperä and Risto Pietilainen also consolidated their second position, allowing Peugeot to celebrate a maximum score in the Manufacturers' championship. Carlos Sainz held off Richard Burns in third though, preventing the French manufacturer from scoring a whitewash of the podium placings.
The Swedish roads continued to thaw in the unseasonably warm climate today, making conditions extremely difficult with patches of gravel poking through the softening ice. Organisers were forced to cancel the day's second stage due to poor road conditions, and many drivers were concerned about how effectively their tyres would retain their studs on the gravel sections.
Other mechanical problems arose for some crews, including Hyundai drivers Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz. The German retired on a road section with transmission trouble, while Loix's brave drive with a broken left foot came to an end when his suspension failed in the day's second stage. The two Hyundai drivers' joined a number of drivers in retirement - most noticeably Subaru duo Tommi Makinen and Petter Solberg
in retirement as well as Skoda's Toni Gardmeister and Kenneth Eriksson.
The three Peugeot 206 WRCs of Marcus Grönholm, Harri Rovanperä and Richard Burns ran without problems today [Sunday]. Grönholm consolidated his strong overnight advantage, extending his lead over Harri Rovanperä to more than a minute to score his first victory of the 2002 season. Rovanperä in turn was able to ease off in the closing stages as he finished a comfortable second.
The third 206 WRC of Richard Burns started today's tests in fifth but the reigning world champion swiftly passed Freddy Loix and began to close in on third-placed Carlos Sainz. The pair entered the final stage separated by just 12.5 seconds but Sainz held on to deny Peugeot a one-two-three. The event did, however, mark Burns's first fastest times and first points for his new team.
Marcus Grönholm said: ''I'm delighted. We had a plan for this event and that was to really attack yesterday [Saturday], to try and build up a lead that would allow us to relax a little today. And it's worked absolutely to that plan. I have a really good feeling with the 206 on gravel now and clearly our performance is very strong, so I'm looking forward to the next events.''
His team-mate Harri Rovanperä noted: ''I'd have liked to have really fought for the victory but we weren't so strong yesterday and Marcus pushed very hard at the right time. It's still a good result for Peugeot, though, because we've taken maximum points.''