Gronholm ends win drought in Finland
8 August 2004
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.
"In one sense I'm a little disappointed because I thought I could finish in the top three here," he said. "But in the other I'm pleased to have scored points for Ford, which was the reason I was in the team. I've enjoyed the weekend but I just wish I could have reproduced Friday's pace for the other two days."
Skoda duo Jani Paasonen and Toni Gardmeister finished sixth and eighth respectively, to confirm the potential of the Fabia, which has shone on this event. Indeed Paasonen did so well he was given the Inmarsat Star of the Rally award.
"It really is an honour to be named the Inmarsat Star of the Rally," he commented. "It has been a very tough event, but it is fantastic to be recognised for my performance against the best in the world. Having only had a day and half's testing in this car, this result is great for me. They presented the award with two stages still to go so I had to wait a bit longer before I could open the champagne!"
Bozian Racing duo Daniel Carlsson and Henning Solberg rounded out the top ten, while Gilles Panizzi was eleventh for Mitsubishi, and Armin Schwarz twelfth in the third Skoda.
In the Junior WRC, Per-Gunnar Andersson triumped, beating his Suzuki team-mate, Kosti Katajamaki by 13.3 seconds, they finished 16th and 17th overall.
Nicolas Bernardi meanwhile stole third in the final test though, denying Suzuki a 1-2-3-4 finish, as both Mirco Baldacci and Urmo Aava suffered punctures, dropping them a place, to end up fourth and fifth.
There were no leading retirements today and in total 34 competitors completed the event, 68 having started on Friday.
Amongst the retirees the most noticeable victims were: Petter Solberg (out in SS4), Harri Rovanpera (out after SS6), Mikko Hirvonen (out in SS10), Sebastian Lindholm (out in SS12) and Kristian Sohlberg (out in SS14).
The WRC now heads to Germany for the Rallye Deutschland in two weeks time. An all-asphalt event, the Rally includes a variety of stages including narrow, twisty vineyard roads in the Mosel Valley, rough, bumpy tarmac roads in the Baumholder military training area and smooth, fast roads in Saarland. Starting from the city of Trier on Friday 20 August, the event includes 24 stages. The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp at 1530hrs on Sunday 22 August.