Ford driver Markko Martin secured his second WRC victory in a row with an assured drive of the final day of Rallye Catalunya.
The Estonian started the final day with a near 40 second advantage over the Peugeot of Marcus Gronholm and, after winning two of the opening three stages of the day, he cruised through the final three stages of the event to win by 23.2 seconds.
"We have spent the last two days at the top of the leaderboard with nothing to gain but an awful lot to lose," the Estonian said at the finish. "When Sebastien Loeb
retired yesterday morning, it took away our only remaining rival. But today has been tough. It was easy to hang onto first place, but difficult to keep the right pace and not make any mistakes on roads that were pretty slippery.”
Understandably Martin was delighted to follow up his victory in Corsica a fortnight ago with another win.
"The team has again been fantastic,” he said. “Michelin's tyres worked perfectly and together we made some really good tyre choices, which is such a crucial factor in mixed conditions. Last year the Focus RS was the fastest car on asphalt and we had nothing to show for it. Now we have proved twice in two weeks that it's still the best car and I'm delighted for everyone in the team. October has been rather a good month!"
Despite the gap overnight, Gronholm was true to word from Saturday night and didn't stop pushing through the closing stages. The Peugeot man was quickest over the final three stages of the event, but by then Martin had enough of a lead to be able to ease off.
Although disappointed with missing out on the win, Gronholm could at least take consolation from the fact that the 307 WRC had run without problems all weekend.
“The car has felt good throughout the rally, although we still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “But we are definitely heading in the right direction now, which is very encouraging. I'm also very pleased that we had no mechanical problems at all during the three days of the event. It's very positive sign for the future that gives me a lot of confidence."
An emotional final event in front of his adoring Spanish fans saw Carlos Sainz take third place ahead of the hugely impressive Stephane Sarrazin.
Driving a 2003 specification customer Subaru Impreza WRC, the Frenchman was quickest through the opening stage of leg three as he ended the rally comfortably ahead of works Subaru driver Petter Solberg.
The outgoing champion struggled throughout the rally, and was never really on the pace, seeing his advantage over Martin in the standings cut to just three points heading into the final event of the year in Australia.
The Norwegian will now focus on trying to win down-under to secure second spot behind Sebastien Loeb
in the standings.