Gronholm lines up win number two
4 February 2006
Ford's Marcus Gronholm tightened his grip on the Uddeholm Swedish Rally Saturday, extending his advantage by around 15 seconds.
Gronholm started the second leg 10.2 seconds up on Sebastien Loeb, however the Finn dominated much of the day, winning the first five tests to increase his lead to 28.1 seconds. Although Loeb took the honours on the last two stages, Gronholm ended the day 25.1 seconds ahead, his only error coming at the start of SS12, when he stalled his Focus - something that cost him around 7 seconds.
He will now go into the final leg Sunday, eager to notch up his second win of the season, after triumphing two weeks ago in Monte Carlo.
Loeb meanwhile blamed his tyre choice for his failure to match Gronholm on the first two loops of tests. The Frenchman was consistently best of the rest but admitted that he had no answer to the Finn's pace. Although he clawed back some time on the final two tests, it now seems unlikely he will be able to win, unless Gronholm goes off or has some sort of mechanical failure.
Daniel Carlsson lies third, the Swede having been engaged in an exciting battle with fellow Mitsubishi user, Gigi Galli all day long. Initially Carlsson went in front on SS7 this morning, before Galli came back in SS8. The pendulum then swung back to Carlsson on SS11, the two finally ending the day with just 0.3 seconds behind them.
Further down the order, Mattias Ekstrom is fifth overall for Red Bull Skoda, despite a minor off this morning followed by electrical problems this afternoon. He is just 0.1 seconds up on Janne Tuohino, who lies sixth.
Kristian Sohlberg completed the final stage in seventh, however he was forced to retire on the way back to service G. Whether or not he will be able to re-start Sunday remains to be confirmed.
His misfortune promoted Thomas Radstrom up a place, while Henning Solberg is on course to secure the final drivers' point in eighth. The OMV Peugeot driver had been sixth for most of the day, when he rolled his Peugeot 307 into a snow bank on SS11. The windscreen was smashed in the incident and as the car slid upside down it scooped up a cockpit load of snow. SS11 was also a bad one for his team-mate, Manfred Stohl. The Austrian was running in fifth place when he left the road at the same place and became stuck in a ditch. As such he was forced to retire from the leg.
Of the rest, Kosti Katajamaki and Xavier Pons complete the top ten with Jimmy Joge eleventh and Jan Kopecky 12th. Subaru duo, Chris Atkinson and Petter Solberg lie 13th and 14th respectively, although 'Hollywood' endured another difficult day with gearbox woes in SS11 and an off in SS12 compounding his misery, on what has been an event to forget.
Mikko Hirvonen was able to re-start this morning after his engine problems on SS5 Friday, but while the Finn set a number of good stage times, the time lost on leg one has severely compromised his event. He is now 16th overall, one place ahead of Matthew Wilson, who had an off in SS10, something that cost him around two minutes.
In the Junior WRC, Per-Gunnar Andersson has gone from strength to strength and concludes the second leg 42 seconds up on Patrick Sandell. Urmo Aava is course to take the final place on the Junior podium ahead Pavel Valousek and Kalle Pinomaki.
The final leg Sunday is the shortest of the three, covering just 90.18 kilometres. Drivers leave Hagfors at 06.50 hours [local time] and tackle two identical loops of three stages to the north and east, split by service back in the town. They return to Karlstad for the finish ceremony at 15.02 hours [local time].