by Rob Wilkins
Peugeot team leader Marcus Gronholm has won the Neste Rally Finland today [Sunday], ending a win 'drought' that stretches back to the Rally of Argentina, in May 2003.
The victory was also the first for the new Peugeot 307 WRC, after Gronholm's Cyprus win, was overturned due to a technical irregularity.
Speaking at the finish, after winning his home event for the fourth time, Gronholm was understandably delighted.
"We've waited a long time for this! This is certainly a victory that we've had to work for, but that makes it all the more worthwhile," he said. "I wasn't completely confident when we started the rally, but my feeling got better and we were able to keep the lead without pushing too hard.
"The gearbox problem on the second day really worried me, as it meant that our top speed was limited to 160kph. But we lost less time than I thought we would, and so the final day was a question of driving safely but quickly to the end. I'd like to thank everybody in the team for making it possible: this is a very special win."
Markko Martin was second for Ford, 34.7 seconds behind, the Estonian going well, despite still suffering following his horrific crash in Argentina last month.
"This has been a really hard weekend," commented Martin. "My body wasn't able to keep up with what my head was telling me to do. I really didn't expect it to be so difficult to drive but we've finished second and scored eight points so that is a good result. But I'm really happy it's over. If I had been 100 per cent fit then I would have been able to challenge Marcus."
Carlos Sainz completed the podium, while his Citroen
team-mate, Sebastien Loeb
was fourth, to further extend his lead at the top of the drivers' championship. Citroen
also remain in control in the manufacturers', having conceded just one point to Ford.
"We suffered at the start of this rally," confirmed Citroen
boss, Guy Frequelin. "Over this terrain, it appears that you learn more during the race than in testing. We are conscious of the work that has to be done if we want to win here, which is something we want to do! I am pleased with the way the team coped with this difficult 'match'. Our two cars reached the finish line, proving their reliability and the solidity of our line-ups. And how can you fail to be satisfied when you look at the classification of the two Championships?"
Janne Tuohino was fifth, while fellow Ford runner, Francois Duval took seventh. Tuohino though was frustrated not to finish in the top three.