Gronholm looking good in Sardinia
19 May 2006
BP Ford number one driver, Marcus Gronholm has ended the opening leg of the Rally d'Italia Sardegna, the seventh round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, with a comfortable lead.
The Finn was in a class of his own this morning, quickest through all three tests, to build a 40-odd second advantage going into the mid-day service.
Furthermore although Sebastien Loeb came back at him during the repeat runs through the tests this afternoon, the double world champion only conceded a few seconds and was second through both SS4 and SS5, before ending the day with the quickest time in SS6. Consequently he will go into the second leg 35.4 seconds in front. His only scare was a slight scrape with a gate post in SS3.
Loeb after losing out this morning on the first two tests, when he was only fifth quickest through both, charged back this afternoon, quickly dispensing with the second BP Ford Focus of Mikko Hirvonen and then attempted to close the gap to Gronholm. However despite two stage wins in SS4 and SS5, he could only reduce the gap by around 5 seconds.
Hirvonen meanwhile has slipped back and is in a pretty lonely third, 40 seconds or so adrift of Loeb and a similar amount up on Henning Solberg, who is fourth for the OMV Peugeot Norway WRT. The Norwegian enjoyed a good day and apart from a stall at the start of SS6, had no real problems.
Further-down the order, Daniel Sordo is fifth, on only his third gravel event with the Xsara WRC. Although he was unhappy with the set-up on his car in the morning, he seemed to make progress as the day went on and was fourth and fifth through the final two tests.
Gigi Galli is next up in sixth position, the Italian had bad start when he spun in the first stage, but apart from that, has gone OK, although at times he was less than pleased with the choice of his tyres.
Chris Atkinson in contrast began well for Subaru and was second quickest on the opening stage, however as the day went on he slipped down the order and now overnights in seventh position, with Xavier Pons eighth and on course to take the final drivers' points' paying position. The Kronos Citroen driver, like his team-mate, Sordo, was unhappy with his car early on, but was somewhat more pleased on the second loop.
Jussi Valimaki and Kristian Sohlberg rounded out the top eight, with Francois Duval just on the outskirts of the top ten in eleventh. The Belgian is the top Skoda runner, narrowly ahead of OMV Peugeot's Manfred Stohl, who suffered from brake and tyres problems early in the day.
Kosti Katajamaki heads the trio of Ford's entered under the Stobart VK banner, the Finn is 13th in the standings, while Luis-Perez Companc is down in 17th place in the 'third' car and Matthew Wilson after a series of problems, is not even in the top 50. The Englishman has had a torrid Rally d'Italia to date, picking up a minute penalty before the off, after the team had to change his engine and then losing time after hitting a rock and damaging his suspension on SS1. He then had to limp it through SS2 and SS3, conceding more time, before ECU issues in the afternoon, once again left him at the wrong end of the time-sheets.
Of the other works' entries, Petter Solberg was forced to retire from the opening leg in the final stage, while lying sixth overall, after a string of punctures. He will re-start from 14th place, one place ahead of Red Bull Skoda 'junior' driver, Andreas Aigner. Aigner's team-mate, Harri Rovanpera was the only other notable retirement, the Finn pulling out after SS5 with transmission problems, assuming he will re-start on Saturday, he will do so from 19th position overall, one place behind Guy Wilks, who heads the Junior WRC category.
Wilks took over the lead in the Junior class on SS5, after early leader, Urmo Aava encountered difficulties. The Brit now has a 1min 24sec lead over Patrick Sandell's Renault Clio, while Conrad Rautenbach is third and currently on course to complete the JWRC podium.
The action now resumes on Saturday, with another two identical loops of three stages. SS7 begins at 09.30 hours local time [8.30 hours British time].
More to follow then...