Having helped the BP Ford
team to clinch its first manufacturers' title in 27 years in New Zealand, Marcus Gronholm ensured the Blue Oval ended a barren run of the same length on Wales Rally GB with victory in the 2006 WRC finale.
Gronholm led the event from the very first stage on Friday morning and saw his challenge aided when team-mate Mikko Hirvonen
and then Petter Solberg, the only two people who seemed able to take the fight to the Finn, hit problems.
For Gronholm, the Welsh victory was his seventh of the season and ensures he ends the campaign just a single point behind champion Sebastien Loeb. Although that was aided by Loeb missing the final four rounds of the season through injury, Gronholm can now reflect on a missed opportunity with his roll on the opening leg of Rally Australia possibly being the difference between finishing as runner-up and clinching his third world title…
However, that mistake meant the title was no longer in reach as the WRC arrived in the forests of South Wales but it didn't mean Gronholm was taking it easy. Setting the pace through the opening Port Talbot stage, the 'Flying Finn' went on to post nine outright stage wins of the 17 available with his only minor blip coming on the final day, with a spin on the first run through Brechfa costing him 20 seconds. However with a comfortable lead already by the point, the spin only served as a reminder to Gronholm not to take anything for granted and he duly brought the car home to end Ford's long wait for a win on the British round of the WRC.
Behind Gronholm, Manfred Stohl brought the curtain down on a fine season at the wheel of the OMV Peugeot with a third consecutive podium finish – and one the carries him above Dani Sordo into fourth in the championship standings.
Stohl, who scored more than double the points of any other Manufacturer 2 driver during the season, was only outside the top three for one stage over the three days of competition in Wales and his decision to play it safe and not risk making a mistake from the start of the second day proved to be the correct one as he came home with an advantage of just under 20 seconds over Petter Solberg.
The Subaru driver went into the event looking to secure his fifth straight Wales Rally GB win, but the king of the Welsh forests was to endure a frustrating weekend. On the very first stage on Friday he hit trouble when his Impreza stalled and it was to be the first of many problems over the course of the weekend.
Having bounced back from the issue to lie second at the end of leg one, he lost time with damaged steering on leg two and then, while trying to fight back into second place, a spin on the final leg – leaving him to reflect on a winless campaign for the Banbury based squad.
Emerging on top of what had expected to be the closest fight of the final day with his best ever WRC result was Jari-Matti Latvala
whose fourth place finish was also the best yet for the Stobart
VK M-Sport team.