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Gronholm takes fifth Swedish win

11 February 2007

Two-time world champion, Marcus Gronholm brought his Ford Focus WRC car home in first place on Sunday to clinch his second successive win in Sweden - and his fifth in total.

Gronholm went into the event as the favourite and while he didn't have it all his own way, in the end he took a convincing victory, 50 seconds or so up on his nearest rival, Sebastien Loeb.

Marcus took the lead on the second loop on Friday, overhauling Petter Solberg in SS5 and eventually ending the day 11.1 seconds up on Loeb, who 'passed' Petter for third in the penultimate test. Saturday looked set to be another all-too-familiar battle between Gronholm and Loeb, and while initially it look likely to be a close run thing, Marcus powered ahead on the middle loop, increasing his advantage more than two-fold after blitzing the opposition in Torntorp 2 and Vargasen 2. The 39-year-old then proceeded to pull further ahead in the afternoon, finishing the day 38.4 seconds in front.

The Ford man could have eased off on Sunday, but in the end he choose not too, winning three more stages, to add to the eight taken in legs 1 and 2 and finally triumphing by around 50-odd seconds. It was his first win of the year - and yet another in Sweden, after also taking the honours in 2006, 2003, 2002 and 2000. The result moves him up to second in the drivers' championship, at this very early stage, 2 points behind Loeb.

Seb for his part began the event in the worst way possible, when he stalled at the start of the Karlstad super special on Thursday night. That blip cost him around 7-8 seconds and immediately put him on the back-foot.

While the Frenchman quickly fought back once the event started 'proper' on Friday, and was up from 20th to fourth by the lunch-time halt on day one, he finally finished the first day 11.1 seconds adrift of the lead and would have been that bit closer but for the super special gaff.

Furthermore while he matched Gronholm on SS9 and SS10 on Saturday, a wrong tyre choice for SS11 and SS12, cost him dear and from then on, he took the decision to drive for second and settle for the eight points.

Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile took the final podium position, 1min 40secs off his Ford team-mate, Gronholm, while Seb was 48 seconds in front in his C4. Mikko lost time on Friday when the power steering on his Focus malfunctioned, dropping him from fourth to tenth. He fought back though on the second loop and finished day one in fifth position.

On Saturday he was engaged in a three-way battle for fourth, which quickly became third following Petter Solberg's exit in SS10. Henning held the position to begin with, before Mikko went in front on SS11, pulling away with four successive times in the top three.

Henning tried to keep up but a spin in the penultimate test on Saturday, left Hirvonen with a 30-odd second cushion and the matter decided.

Henning's result though was a good one for the Stobart team and it equalled there previous best in the WRC, achieved at last year's season ending, Wales Rally GB, when Jari-Matti Latvala also finished fourth.

Daniel Carlsson took fifth spot, on his debut outing in the OMV Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC. It was a good result for the Swede, considering he had only done around 100 kilometres in the car prior to this weekend's event. It was also his first with new co-driver, Denis Giraudet and bodes well for the Rally Norway next weekend.

Mitsubishi privateer, Toni Gardemeister secured three points, although it could conceivably have been a lot better, had he not had technical problems at the end of Saturday's leg, which dropped him from being in the battle for third to eighth. The Finn made up ground on Sunday, but was too far back to move up any higher.

Manfred Stohl secured seventh to give OMV Kronos a double points haul, but the Austrian had mixed feelings, after brake problems and poor tyre choices conspired against him.

Further-down the leaderboard, Chris Atkinson took eighth and the final drivers' point. The Aussie had been on target to beat Carlsson and take fifth following the first loop on Sunday, but he made a mistake on the repeat run through Backa and damaged his car. Consequently he lost time and in the end was fortunate to be able to bring his Impreza home.

Mads Ostberg ended the event just outside the points in ninth, while Skoda Fabia runner, Jan Kopecky completed the top ten, followed by Patrik Flodin and Daniel Sordo. Sordo lost time on the first 'proper' test and after that was never really in contention. The Spaniard preserved though to the finish and in the end he was rewarded with the final manufacturers' point.

Of the other top drivers, Gigi Galli started extremely well and was running as high as second after winning SS3. He made a mistake in SS5 though and got stuck in a snow bank and from then on was up against it, eventually finishing 13th overall, with Thomas Schie 14th and Munchi's Ford driver, Luis-Perez Companc 15th.

Companc's team-mate, Juan Pablo Raises ended the event in 25th place, but was excluded as he failed to meet the event safety requirements of wearing two driving gloves during competition. While changing tyres after stage 19, Raies lost one of his gloves and had to drive the short final test with only one.

In the Production Car WRC category, Juho Hanninen took his debut win in the series, ending the event more than 2 minutes up on Oscar Svedlund, who was second. Kristian Sohlberg had been leading the PWRC for much of the event, until he was overhauled by Hanninen towards the end of leg 2. Sohlberg tried to come back at Juho on day three, but lost a wheel in SS16 and eventually finished fourth, a minute of Anton Alen, who took the final place on the PWRC podium.

Of the other PWRC runners, Araujo Armindo was fifth, while Fumio Nutahara, Toshi Arai and Nasser Al-Attiyah rounded out the points scorers, in sixth, seventh and eighth.

In terms of retirees, there were only two major names that didn't make it to the finish - Xavier Pons and Petter Solberg.

Pons was the first to go out, when he went off the road in his privately entered Mitsubishi in SS5. Solberg followed the next day, in SS10, when he went off into a snow-bank and got stuck, losing around 14 minutes and dropping from third to no-where. Although 'Hollywood' continued and completed SS11 and SS12, Subaru opted to 'retire' him after service F in order to preserve his car for next event.

The WRC now stays in Scandinavia for round three, with the Rally Norway beginning later on this week, running from February 16-18.


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