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Gronholm extends advantage in Sweden

8 February 2003


Marcus Gronholm maintained his grip on the Uddeholm Swedish Rally through day two of the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

The reigning world champion enjoyed a largely uneventful run in the stages around Hagfors, north of the rally's base in Karlstad. Gronholm's biggest problem came in the first stage of the day, when he clouted a rock buried in one of the ruts early in Granberget.

The impact knocked studs out of his front-right tyre and put the steering out of line. Despite that problem Gronholm managed to set third fastest time - and then increase his advantage over second-placed driver Tommi Makinen to 38.8s at the close of play.

Subaru driver Makinen reported a similarly uneventful day, save for a heavy landing on the penultimate test, which damaged the exhaust on his Impreza WRC2003. Makinen pulled time out of Peugeot driver Richard Burns who maintains third place ahead of fourth-placed Ford man Markko Martin.

The eighth stage of the rally was stopped when Juuso Pykalisto rolled blocking the road. Harri Rovanpera collided with his car. Both retired from the event.

Gronholm and Burns' 206 WRCs ran reliably. Gronholm continued to lead this event through the second leg, although he suffered the loss of studs on his right front tyre just two kilometres into the long Granberget stage first thing this morning. The Finn missed out on his chance to drive one of his favourite stages - Fredriksberg - after his team-mate Harri Rovanpera crashed into Juuso Pykalisto's already rolled 206. The stage was blocked and the leader was given the best competitive time through the test.

Burns lost time to second-placed Makinen and was frustrated by his progress on the middle loop, the Briton candidly admitted his driving wasn't as good as it could have been.

Rovanpera had closed on Burns through the opening stage, posting fastest time in the process, but it all went wrong for the 2001 Swedish Rally winner when he collided with Pykalisto's 206 on SS8.

Gronholm said: ''I must have hit a stone or something near the start of Granberget to knock the studs out. After that it became harder and harder to steer the cars in left-handers, near the end I was almost stopping to go through the corners. I haven't been pushing any harder than yesterday today, but the last stages of the day - when it was dark - weren't so nice.''

Burns commented: ''I don't know what was wrong with my driving in stages nine and ten, it just didn't feel right. My entry speed was too slow into the corners. I'm not going to stop trying to catch Tommi.''

Peugeot Team boss Corrado Provera added: ''I am incredibly disappointed about the accident. Juuso Pykalisto rolled and stayed in the car believing that he would be able to carry on once the spectators had got his car back on the wheels. Unfortunately Harri received no warning about the crash and he then went into Juuso's car. The stage was stopped and an ambulance sent in to take Juuso to hospital as a precaution.''

At Subaru meanwhile both Impreza WRC2003s ran without mechanical difficulties.

Makinen complained about the time it was taking for his Pirelli tyres to heat up through the day's stages. Apart from that Makinen was delighted with the way his Subaru was working. He acknowledged, however, that it would need Gronholm to have a problem for him to make further progress. The Finn eased his way clear of Burns through the day's stages.

Petter Solberg was happier today, the engineers had made some changes to the differentials on his car overnight and the Norwegian spent the day progressing up the leaderboard to hold an overnight sixth.

''I've got more feeling in the car today,'' noted Solberg, ''but it's still not quite right and I'm still not going at 100 per cent until the feeling comes. I manage to do well on rallies all around the world, but I don't know what it is about Sweden, I never seem to go that well here.''

Team-mate Makinen added: ''The car is fantastic. This rally has been very encouraging for the team, it shows what a good step forward we have made. Today I've had no problems except for the tyres at the start of stages. If you look at the split times, you can see for the first four minutes of the stages we are about five seconds down - then the gap stays the same after that. When the tyres aren't up to temperature, the car feels quite nervous.''

The two remaining Ford Focus RS WRCs of Markko Martin and Mikko Hirvonen ran without any mechanical trouble today. Francois Duval retired with broken suspension yesterday.

Martin made up three places - passing Toni Gardemeister and benefiting from the retirement of Harri Rovanpera and Juuso Pykalisto - to end the leg in fourth place after a drama-free run through Saturday. The Estonian is 16 seconds ahead of Scot Colin McRae.

Hirvonen closed in on Armin Schwarz, despite feeling he'd made a wrong tyre choice for the middle loop of stages.

Martin said: ''A very boring day today! We were just driving, nothing special. We are having to push hard to keep people behind us, which is never easy - but we will keep going. I have found it hard to get excited about the stages today, they're a little too fast.''

Hirvonen added: ''I took the snow tyre and I should have been on the ice tyre. I was surprised that there was so much ice coming through in some of those stages. I've made a few changes to the settings on the front differential, but really my car is running in a pretty similar specification to Markko's.''

Hyundai's Jussi Valimaki retired on the first stage this morning with transmission problems. The other two Accent WRCs were largely reliable, save for a cracked exhaust manifold on Armin Schwarz's car which dropped some power.

Hyundai altered the transmission and suspension set-up on the Accents WRCs of Freddy Loix and Schwarz for today's six stages. Loix wasn't happy with the changes made to his Accent and reverted to the settings which he'd used on the previous evening. The Belgian moved up one place through the day to finish leg two in ninth place. Schwarz felt this helped the car's handling, but his biggest problem was his position on the road for leg two. The German was running first, cutting a track through the five out of six stages which hadn't been used yesterday. He eventually lost his battle to keep Ford's Hirvonen behind him and lost 12th place to the Finn.

''I don't understand how come I was first on the road,'' said Schwarz. ''I finished 16th last night, so I shouldn't be first. It is frustrating.''

Loix added: ''I felt the car was too nervous and twitchy the way it was set up this morning and then for the last three stages I certainly had the wrong tyre. I should have stayed on the snow tyre.''

Both Skoda Octavia WRCs meanwhile ran without fault. Toni Gardemeister dropped back behind Martin and Solberg, but then came back up the leaderboard when the two Peugeots crashed on the eighth stage. Gardemeister continued to push hard, but there was little he could do to maintain his position ahead of Martin and Solberg.

Didier Auriol continued to try and make up time that he'd lost when he went off the road yesterday. A change of springs late on the first leg made the car more driveable and the Frenchman admitted he was feeling more and more at home in the Octavia.

''I chose the wrong tyre for the first stage this morning, it stopped working near the end and cost us some time,'' said Auriol. ''The car feels better today, we changed the springs yesterday and that has helped.''

Team-mate Gardemeister commented: ''Having Juuso and Harri go off and out of the rally is not the best way for me to gain two places, but it has helped me get closer towards scoring some points for myself and for Skoda.''

At Citroen all three Xsara WRCs ran reliably. Colin McRae spent the day altering the settings on all three differentials on his Xsara WRC. By the end of the day the Scot was happier with the set-up of his car. The times reflected his increased comfort behind the wheel, he was never out of the top six fastest times through the second leg and pulled his way up to fifth place at the end of the day.

Carlos Sainz moved into the top ten overall, but admitted that he still wasn't completely at home in the Xsara. Sebastien Loeb enjoyed leg two far more than yesterday, the Frenchman was also altering the set-up of his car, but he reported that the best thing about today was not running as first car on the road. Loeb was second quickest on SS11 and moved to the fringes of the top ten.

Colin McRae said: ''Things are looking a lot brighter than they did this morning. I wouldn't say that every change we've made to the car has been an improvement, but now the car is better. We've been pushing hard all day and it's just been a couple of seconds here and there that we've pulled out of Markko [Martin], but we'll keep trying.''

Sebastien Loeb noted: ''The times have got better and better as the day went on. Driving is much more fun today - especially SS11 - that is one of my favourites now.''

Carlos Sainz added: ''I'm slowly understanding the car. This is a rally where you have to be very confident to push. I don't really have that right now.''

Of the other entries Toshi Arai continues to lead the Production Cup, despite this being his first attempt at the event. Arai pulled time out of second-placed Stig Blomqvist consistently throughout the day, to end leg two with a 1m17.2s cushion over his fellow Subaru Impreza driver. Both Arai and Blomqvist enjoyed trouble-free days. Janus Kulig [Mitsubishi] moved ahead of Karamjit Singh [Proton] to go third, although just 24.2 seconds separates the reigning Production Cup champion - another first timer in Sweden - from second place.

Among the non-works cars, Juuso Pykalisto crashed out of a top six placing on SS8, while Janne Tuohino dropped back to 11th, not helped when the Focus driver came across an elk running down the road on SS9.



Rally statistics - Leg two:

Starters: 70 crews (30 Group A and 40 Group N) started this morning.

Retirements: Valimaki (FIN), Rovanpera (FIN) and 7 other drivers.

Today - Saturday 8 February: Leg 2 started from Karlstad at 05h30 and covered 706.76km, including 140.37km on six stages.

Tomorrow - Sunday 9 February: Leg 3 starts from Karlstad at 06h00 and covers 706.76km, including 120.75km on five stages. The first car is expected to arrive back in Karlstad at 17h05.

Weather forecast: Temperatures hovering around freezing and occasional rain/sleet.



Stage by stage summary - Leg two:

SS7 Granberget 2 (43.69kms):
1. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 21m 28.0
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 21m 30.6
3. Gronholm (FIN) Ford 21m 32.1

Leaders after SS7:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 10m 26.2
2. Burns (GB) Peugeot 1h 10m 51.7
3. Martin (EE) Ford 1h 10m 57.8

SS8 Fredriksberg (18.14kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 10m 47.5
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 10m 47.5
1. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 10m 47.5
1. Sainz (E) Citroen 10m 47.5


Leaders after SS8:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 21m 12.7
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 1h 21m 39.2
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 1h 21m 45.3

SS9 Lejen (25.04kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 11m 56.2
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 12m 01.9
3. Loeb (F) Citroen 12m 05.3

Leaders after SS9:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 33m 09.9
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 1h 33m 41.1
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 1h 33m 55.2

SS10 Vargasen (32.43kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 18m 08.7
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 18m 12.7
3. Loeb (F) Citroen 18m 14.5

Leaders after SS10:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 51m 18.6
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 1h 51m 53.8
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 1h 52m 11.8

SS11 Torntorp (19.21kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 10m 12.7
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 10m 14.6
3. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 10m 17.3
3. C.McRae (GB) Citroen 10m 17.3

Leaders after SS11:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 01m 31.3
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 2h 02m 11.1
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 2h 02m 33.1

SS12 Hagfors Sprint 2 (1.86kms):
1. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 15m 55.5
2. Burns (GB) Peugeot 16m 01.3
3. Martin (EE) Ford 16m 06.6

Leaders after SS12:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 03m 29.1
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru +38.8
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot +1m 00.9
4. Martin (EE) Ford +1m 46.0
5. C.McRae (GB) Citroen +2m 02.5
6. Solberg (N) Subaru +2m 12.1
7. Gardemeister (FIN) Skoda +2m 25.8
8. Sainz (E) Citroen +2m 30.1
9. Loix (B) Hyundai +2m 40.8
10. Loeb (F) Citroen +2m 51.4




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