Loeb takes over Swedish lead
7 February 2004
Rallye Monte Carlo victor Sebastien Loeb has assumed the lead of the Uddeholm Swedish Rally today, after Markko Martin slid wide on a right-hand bend in stage eleven and hit a rock, damaging his Ford Focus RS WRC03 extensively and leaving the Frenchman out in front.
Although the Citroen driver then came under increasing pressure from Marcus Gronholm, the double world champion also went off on the next test, damaging the intercooler and removing all the lights from the front of his car. Gronholm ended the day 40.6 seconds behind Loeb.
"I think Markko, Marcus and I are all pushing as hard as we can, it's hard to give any more on the stages," noted Loeb, "The stages have been quite nice today, there was some gravel in the re-run stages, but apart from that it's been good.
"Of course I am happy to be in the lead, but the gap isn't so large. Markko had a lead like that and look what happened to him - it's easy to make a mistake on this event."
Gronholm meanwhile, who is now second overall, having moved up from sixth at the start of the day, is refusing to give up the fight - the fact he won four stages today, three on the trot, proves that.
"The spin [in stage twelve] was just a stupid mistake, but it caused us a bit of a problem," said the three-time winner of the Swedish event. "It was not so easy to drive without lights! We're still in the race though, and we're going to be pushing hard again tomorrow, like we have been all day today. I think the gap to the front is too big to catch, but you never know in rallying. I'm certainly not giving up!"
Petter Solberg maintains third while Janne Tuohino is upholding Ford honours, the Finn fourth in the second Focus registered to score points.
Solberg, who won the day's final test, the super special, hit the same rock as Martin in stage eleven, luckily for him though the damage was less serious.
"It's been a difficult day," reflected the Norwegian, "I'm surprised at the final position, especially considering that, with the exception of the final stage, I haven't had an incident free stage all day. It's been great to see so many supporters out in the stages again. Hopefully, I can do a good job tomorrow to make them feel proud. Anything is still possible, even the win, I'm just going to do my best."
Tuohino is now determined to do all he can tomorrow to regain his podium slot though, so Petter better watch out.
"Tomorrow I'm going to have to go as fast as I can, without taking too many risks, to try to regain third," noted Tuohino, "The problem is that I'm not sure I can do that safely because I still don't know the car so well."
Citroen's Carlos Sainz completed the top five, however his day was spoilt by two separate incidents. The first happened in stage eight, when his Xsara WRC landed heavily and filled the air intake with snow. The engine lost power, forcing him to pull over so his co-driver Marc Marti to get out and clear the blockage.
The second problem occurred on the next test, Sainz went off the road avoiding Mikko Hirvonen, who had put his Subaru into a snow bank.
"I was committed to the corner when Mikko stepped out into the road," he explained, "I had to go off to avoid him. When we went off we filled the radiator with snow. We got to the end of the stage, but the engine was losing power like it had on the stage before. Mikko came over and apologised to me, these things happen – but it's not so good for me."
Further down the leaderboard Hirvonen and François Duval all lost time off the road, Duval the biggest loser plummeting to 53rd overall after stage nine, while Hirvonen lost six minutes in the same test.
"I had a big understeer going into a corner [in stage nine] and then went into a ditch. Maybe my pace notes were too optimistic for that section," noted Duval. "There was only one spectator there and he carried on filming! It was 30 minutes before any other people arrived to help. My time loss wasn't so important. Just to be here and try to finish and gain more experience is what is important. We've made many alterations to our pace notes and that will help us enormously in the future."
Of the rest, Henning Solberg, Petter's brother leads the 'privateer entries', he is sixth overall in his Bozian prepared Peugoet 206 WRC, while Daniel Carlsson is seventh, and Markko Martin completes the points scorers, Hirvonen nearly two minutes away in ninth.
Martin, who had led the event comfortably until his little error, was savage with himself. Reflecting on that 'moment' he explained: "I went into the right-hander [in stage eleven] and leaned on the snow bank, it looked like there had been other cars in there before me, and then bang. We hit the rock and the wheel was smashed.
"I had to lock the differentials before we could carry on. It's a very big disappointment, but I have to say the mechanics did an incredible job to sort this mess out and get us out of service on time.
"The result [the win] was there on a plate for us but now it has gone and that was my mistake. I just leaned a bit harder than everyone else on that snowbank. I'm really disappointed and sorry for the team. Tomorrow we must make sure we can bring some points back."
Of the other manufacturer entries, two more were sidelined, to join Gilles Panizzi in retirement. The Frenchman's team-mate, Kristian Sohlberg was the first to go, he didn't even start the day, gearbox gremlins meaning he would have been better off staying in bed!
Mario Fornaris, Mitsubishi's technical director, noted: "This morning we couldn't fix a transmission problem in the time allowed, so Kristian was late at the time control and then out of the rally. It's a pity for us because we were expecting to have more information from this rally, but overall the feeling between Monte Carlo and here is good; we have made some improvements during the rally."
Peugeot's Freddy Loix was the second works retirement - he went out in stage twelfth with engine problems.
"I'm not sure what's going on here," said the Belgian, obviously very disappointed, "In the past I've come here with no testing or a broken leg and done well. This time I'm here with lots of testing and things just weren't going right. The misfire made the car quite difficult to drive. When I was braking the engine was trying to stall, then there was no power there when we went back on the throttle. It's a big disappointment to retire from the event."
In the Production Car World Rally Championship [PCWRC] Jani Paasonen continues to lead, extending his advantage to over a minute at the end of today's eight stages. Alister McRae remains second in class, with Karamjit Singh third.
In total sixty crews left Karlstad early this morning for today's action, 51 completing the 152 competitive kilometres.
Tomorrow [Sunday]'s leg is the shortest of the rally - with a total stage distance of 96.60 km - and starts when crews leave the Karlstad parc ferme at 0530hrs. The real action starts at 0804hrs when the first car will start the 14.17km Sagen test, followed by the 15km Rammen stage and 10.78km Hara. After a 20-minute service halt back in Hagfors, crews will then repeat all three stages in the afternoon. The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp back at 1638hrs [all times local].