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Glory for Gronholm at the Swedish Rally

3 February 2002


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.''

Richard Burns added: ''We pushed harder than before in the last stage today, without taking massive risks, but ultimately we started today just a bit too far behind Carlos to make the attack possible. And when the second stage today was cancelled, it made things even harder. But I'm reasonably happy - it's good to get some points on the board and I feel much more comfortable and confident with the 206 than I did three days ago.''

Peugeot Sport team director Corrado Provera concluded: ''It doesn't get much better than this. We've taken our third Swedish Rally win in a row, we're already leading the manufacturers' championship and Marcus is in front in the drivers' championship. I'm absolutely delighted.''

Meanwhile at Ford the Focus RS WRC02s of Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae have run without major difficulties today, although Sainz was concerned by the amount of stud loss from his tyres in the gravely penultimate stage.

Sainz started leg three third too far behind Harri Rovanperä to challenge for second, but Richard Burns and Freddy Loix were both threats. Loix's challenge faded quickly but in the closing stages, Sainz had to dig deep to fend off a determined charge from Burns. The Spaniard looked to have done enough in SS14 but on the following stage, many of the studs in his front tyres were ripped out by the gravel patches in the roads and he dropped 12 seconds to his rival. The pair went into the last stage separated by just 12.5 seconds but although Burns was faster, Sainz did enough to hold onto the final podium placing by just over eight seconds.

Colin McRae, meanwhile, honed in on a points placing and he went into the last test determined to overhaul brother Alister for sixth. But instead, the 1995 world champion had a high-speed spin into a ditch and lost around 20s - as a result, he finished 0.3 seconds behind his younger brother. But then fifth-placed Ford privateer Janne Tuohino checked out of final service one minute late to drop behind both McRaes and allow Colin a single point.

Carlos Sainz said: ''The last three stages weren't very nice for drivers, especially looking at the studs situation. I was really panicking a bit in the penultimate stage. In the last stage we had some split times and when we saw them we realised that we were five seconds ahead of Richard, so I took it a bit easier to make sure our studs lasted to the end. I also had a broken mousse insert in that stage so I'm pleased to get another podium finish.''

Colin McRae added: ''The spin was pretty spectacular - it was as big a moment as I'd like to have. It was in a fast muddy section and we got kicked out of the ruts, went into the ditch and then went around. The data logger showed we'd stopped for about 18 seconds. Obviously I'm disappointed not to get past Alister but at least we've taken a point from here - when we had the wheel problem yesterday even that didn't look possible.''

The Mitsubishi Lancer WRCs of Alister McRae, Jani Paasonen and François Delecour encountered no significant mechanical woes today. Alister McRae battled with Janne Tuohino for much of today, and although the Scot lost out to the young Finn, he then benefited from Tuohino's decision to help Ford works driver Colin McRae by dropping road penalties. As a result Alister McRae (who'd held off brother Colin by 0.3 seconds on the final stage) finished fifth, scoring two points. Team-mates Jani Paasonen and François Delecour continued to experiment with set-ups and eventually finished 14th and 34th respectively.

Alister McRae noted: ''It's good to hold off Colin and get some points, my first for Mitsubishi. I knew it'd be a big fight in the final stage with Colin but I just tried to be committed and stay in the middle of the road. It worked, although it sounds like he had a fairly big moment! We've learnt a lot about the Lancer here in these conditions and I'm looking forward to Corsica. Granted, we weren't really competitive the last time out on asphalt but I know we've a lot of new things to try before then.''

Freddy Loix's Hyundai Accent had run faultlessly throughout the event but it finally hit trouble in SS14. The Belgian's car broke its front suspension seven kilometres into the stage and he was forced to retire. Team-mate Armin Schwarz was another casualty of this morning's stages - the German forgot to switch on his Accent's active differentials for the opening stage but after the team changed the front differential at the following service, he felt the car lose drive on a road section and was forced to stop. Juha Kankkunen's car however has run without significant mechanical problems.

Loix probably knew this morning that holding off Richard Burns would be a difficult task and so it proved - the Englishman needed just the opening stage to brush past the Belgian. But Loix still looked likely to finish in fifth place until SS14, when broken front suspension brought his event to a premature end. It was a cruel morning for Hyundai - the team elected to change Armin Schwarz's front differential as a 'nothing-to-lose' attempt to solve the transmission glitches that plagued him yesterday. But on the road section after service the German felt his car lose drive and he retired. Juha Kankkunen thus ended up shouldering the team's hopes over the final few stages and the four-times world champion finished in eighth overall to score a manufacturers' point.

Freddy Loix said: ''I'm disappointed not to finish but we had a fantastic rally and I didn't make any mistakes. Competing here has been very good for my head, because it can be difficult after an accident to decide when you should come back and now I already know that the speed is still there.''

The Skoda Octavia WRC of Stig Blomqvist has run without major problems today. Kenneth Eriksson's Octavia arrived at service after SS15 with severe overheating, forcing the Swede to fill the car's radiator with water sourced from a puddle. But he reached his mechanics and they soon changed the radiator, allowing him to continue.

The overheating returned during the final stage, though, and the Swedish veteran was forced to retire joining his team-mate Toni Gardmeister on the sidelines [Gardmeister retired in SS11 yesterday [Saturday] after going off the road]. It was a bitter pill for Eriksson who looked like he had done enough to finish fifth and pick up some points for himself and Skoda. Former world champion Stig Blomqvist, meanwhile, brought his Octavia home in 15th after a steady drive.

Kenneth Eriksson said: ''The engine temperature just kept rising and we tried to keep going, but once it was over 140 degrees we lost compression and the engine just stopped. I'm really disappointed because the split times for that stage were still strong and we were right on course for a good result. But I hope I've proved on this rally that the Octavia WRC is a competitive car on the loose-surface events.''

The Citroen Xsara WRCs of Thomas Radstrom and Sebastien Loeb have both enjoyed a trouble-free final day. Neither Thomas Radstrom or Sebastien Loeb had much to gain but pride today after a number of excursions into snow banks had dropped them outside the top ten on the opening day. But they continued to push, regularly posting times in the top ten throughout the closing stages. Loeb eventually finished 17th, while Radstrom brought his car home in 37th.

Sebastien Loeb said: ''I came here to learn but I've been quite pleased by the way I've driven. It hasn't been easy for me all rally because I've always been running somewhere near the front of the field and we've quite often had to sweep clear the snow and loose ice for the guys running further back. But I needed experience of the conditions and I've got that now.''

Subaru meanwhile failed to get either car to the finish. Tommi Makinen went out on day one [Friday] after hitting a snow bank and his team-mate Petter Solberg retired on the opening stage of day two.

Team Principal David Lapworth said: ''It [the Swedish Rally] has not worked out well for the team. Tommi had no real chance yesterday [Friday] being first on the road with the weather conditions. Petter was going to make a big push today [Saturday] and was feeling confident. But for now we just need to get the car back to the UK and work it all out. We hope to be back on top again in Corsica.''

Of the other entries Janne Tuohino was the top private World Rally Car driver on the event and he finished fifth on the timesheets, but he then took a ten-second penalty to enable Colin McRae to score a drivers' point instead.

There was a thrilling conclusion to the battle for honours in the Group N category for more standard vehicles. Young Swede Daniel Carlsson and Finn Juha Kangas went into the final stage separated by just a second - but Carlsson came out ten seconds to the good to claim a home victory.

In the FIA Cup for Drivers of Production Vehicles, Kristian Sohlberg led from the second stage to the finish, with Japanese driver Toshihiro Arai second and former British champion Marko Ipatti claiming the final podium place.


Rally statistics:

Starters: 59 cars (28 Group A and 31 Group N) restarted the rally

Retirements: Loix (B), Schwarz (D), Eriksson (S) & 5 other drivers

Today - Sunday 3 February:
Leg 3 started from Karlstad at 06h00 and covered 509.27km, including 128.82km on five special stages.


Stage by stage summary - Leg three:

SS12 Sagen 2 (14.17kms):
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 7m 20.2
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 7m 20.6
3. McRae (GB) Ford 7m 21.3

Leaders after SS12:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 19m 36.6
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 2h 20m 32.1
3. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 22m 03.6

SS13 Rammen 2 (23.16kms):
Stage cancelled due to poor road conditions.

SS14 Vargasen (32.43kms):
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 17m 50.1
2. McRae (GB) Ford 17m 50.5
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 17m 50.7

Leaders after SS14:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 37m 27.3
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 2h 38m 29.7
3. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 39m 54.3

SS15 Torntop 2 (19.21kms):
1. McRae (GB) Ford 9m 55.7
2. Burns (GB) Peugeot 9m 58.3
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 10m 01.1

Leaders after SS15:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 47m 28.4
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 2h 48m 36.3
3. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 50m 04.8

SS16 Hagfors 2002 (39.85kms):
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 19m 45.2
2. Sainz (E) Ford 19m 49.6
3. Radstrom (S) Citroen 19m 51.8

Leaders in Karlstad after SS16:
1. Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 07m 28.6
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot +1m 24.5
3. Sainz (E) Ford +2m 25.8
4. Burns (GB) Peugeot +2m 33.9
5. A.McRae (GB) Mitsubishi +4m 14.7
6. C.McRae (GB) Ford +4m 15.0
7. Tuohino (FIN) Ford +4m 23.4
8. Kankkunen (FIN) Hyundai +4m 36.9
9. Lindholm (FIN) Peugeot +4m 56.6
10. Duval (B) Ford +6m 33.3

Group N leaders after SS16:
1. Carlsson D. (S) Mitsubishi 3h 22m 23.6
2. Kangas (FIN) Mitsubishi +09.2
3. Backlund (S) Mitsubishi +1m 47.9
4. Sohlberg (FIN) Mitsubishi +3m 02.3
5. Arai (J) Subaru +3m 28.4
6. Ipatti (FIN) Mitsubishi +4m 01.1


Final Rally statistics:

Event:
The rally covered 1876.49km, including 381.96km on 16 special stages (including six run twice). All stages were on snow-covered gravel roads closed to other traffic.

Starters:
75 cars (33 Gr.A + 42 Gr. N) started the rally

Finishers:
51 cars (25 Gr.A + 26 Gr. N) finished the rally

Stage winners:
Gronholm (SS1,SS7, SS8, SS9, SS10, SS11)
Rovanpera (SS2, SS3)
C. McRae (SS5, SS6, SS15)
Radstrom (SS4)
Burns (SS12, SS14,SS16)
SS13 was cancelled due to poor road conditions

Rally leaders:
Gronholm (SS1-SS2)
Rovanpera (SS3-SS4)
Gronholm (SS5-SS16)


FIA World Championships (provisional standings):


FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers (after round 2 of 14):
Gronholm (FIN) 12, Makinen (FIN) 10, Sainz (E) 8, Loeb (F) 6, Rovanpera (FIN) 6, C.McRae (GB) 4, Burns (GB) 3, A.McRae (GB) 2, Solberg (N) 1.

FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers (after round 2 of 14):
Peugeot 20, Ford 16, Subaru 12, Mitsubishi 3, Hyundai 1, Skoda 0.

FIA Junior World Rally Championship (for drivers) (after 1 of 6 rounds, this event not counting):
Duval (B) 10, Caldani (I) 6, Feghali (RL) 4, Carlsson (S) 3, Doppelreiter (A) 2,
Schelle (D) 1.

FIA World Rally Championship of Production Cars (for drivers) (after 1 of 8 rounds):
Sohlberg (FIN) 10, Arai (J) 6, Ipatti (FIN) 4, Fiorio (I) 3, Girdauskas (N) 2,
Rowe (GB) 1.



Next event: March 7-10, 2002, Rallye de France - Tour de Corse, Ajaccio, Corsica.




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