Finland's Marcus Gronholm elevated himself to the top of the world championship standings by taking an unchallenged victory on his home event.

The Peugeot driver was never headed over the three days of competition out of Jyvaskyla and, when erstwhile championship leader Richard Burns destroyed his Subaru on the opening stage of the second leg, Gronholm's task suddenly became a lot easier. The Englishman had been his only real rival up to that point, and now the road was clear for an historic victory.

Gronholm still had the small matter of five stages and over 500km to negotiate before his triumph could be confirmed, however, and he wasn't about to do anything stupid. As a result Peugeot won just one of the day's stages, but the team was not too concerned. It was the only works outfit to still all of its entered machines still running at the end of the event, and scored healthy points as a result, although there were a few scares along the way.

Related Articles

Despite trying to take it relatively easy, Gronholm reported a vibration and handling imbalance at the first service, but this seemed to be of little consequence as the Finn kept the 206WRC in the top ten times all day. Seventh on the final, televised, test was among Gronholm's worst performances on the event, but was enough to confirm his victory.

''I'm obviously very happy with the result,'' he beamed back in Jyvaskyla, ''The Finnish fans have supported me all the way, and I'm very grateful to them for that. There's still a long way to go in the championship, but maybe now we've got a chance to win it this year - especially as we have shown here that Peugeot's reliability is very, very good.''

Chasing the Finn home was the other of this year's main championship contenders, Colin McRae. The Ford driver had moved into the top three after Burns' demise, but admitted at the start of the day that it was going to be tough to catch second-placed Harri Rovanpera, as the privateer's Toyota was proving fleet across the dry forest roads.

McRae confessed that he needed a break if he was to improve on four points, and that's exactly what he got early in the day. Having spent SS19 attempting to catch the Corolla, the Scot was pleased to discover that not only had Rovanpera broken a wheel on SS20, but had also been cited for time control errors on both the first two stages. With the gap on the road reduced to three seconds, the twenty-second penalty handed out to the Finn meant that McRae moved into second with just two stages to run.

The Grifone team naturally protested the punishment handed down to its driver and, with the penalty halved to ten seconds, Rovanpera was suddenly back in front with just SS23 to go, having gained a lot of time on the Ford on the previous stage. McRae knew what he had to do, and did it, blitzing the final test and earning the right to second place again. Grifone continues to protest, however, and any further action by the stewards could have a profound effect on the podium positions.

Fourth place went to reigning champion Tommi Makinen after one of Mitsubishi's better showings this year. The revised Lancer Evo fell some way short of challenging the leading cars, but did enough to keep Makinen in with a shout of the title, albeit a distant one. The Finn opened the day with an oil leak which slowed his progress on SS19, lost his engine at the start of SS20 and the collected the mail - complete with mailbox - on SS21 to ensure that he would not be in a position to challenge either McRae or Rovanpera for third. His charge was not helped by back injuries inflicted on co-driver Risto Mannisenmaki on day two and, although the plucky Finn refused to quit, he did ask Makinen to cut the 'maximum attack' over the worst of the jumps.

Fifth and sixth fell to the two remaining works Peugeots. Gronholm's cousin Sebastian Lindholm repaid the team's faith in selecting him as it second point-scoring driver by pipping Francois Delecour to the higher prize, but the Frenchman drove well enough to suggest that his future with the team may be of longer duration than many expect. Only a last stage blemish, when he rolled the car onto its side, spoilt Delecour's rally.

Outside the points on this occasion, Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol suffered mixed fortunes. The Spaniard was already struggling when the day began, the result of a roll on day one, but appeared to be progressing back towards the top ten with every stage. A fire on SS22 slowed his momentum, however and, coupled with a gearbox problem on the last stage, forced the Focus back down to 14th.

Kankkunen fared better, taking another stage win on SS22 to bring his tally up to three for the event, but it was not enough to overcome the problems he suffered on the same stage on day two. A broken wheel early on day three did not help his cause, either, but the Subaru driver battled on to the end and overhauled Alister McRae's ailing Hyundai for what could prove to be valuable manufacturers' points.

Auriol began the day seventh overall, and in with a shout of SEAT's first points of the year, but things just got worse for the frustrated Frenchman. Having seemingly cured the handling problems he encountered on day one, Auriol was alarmed to find them returning with each successive stage on day three.

''The feeling isn't so good today,'' he sighed midway through the leg, ''But the trouble is that there are so many electronic items in a modern car, it could be any anything that is causing the problem.''

Despite trying his hardest to prevent a slide down the order, Auriol had to overcome engine, suspension and differential problems before losing a lot of time on the penultimate stage and plummeting to eleventh.

The Hyundais never expected to feature highly on this event, with Alister McRae fearing that even the GpN-shod locals could cause the team problems. This proved not to be the case, however, with the Scot only being robbed of a possible seventh place by the loss of power steering late on. Pasi Hagstrom, who eventually took the place, and Kankkunen - on SS23 - were the grateful recipients of McRae's misfortune. Team-mate Kenneth Eriksson trailed the Scot for much of the day, and then had to put up with an 80-second penalty right at the end which dropped him to 15th.

Group N saw the only major retirement of the day, as reigning champion Gustavo Trelles dropped out after struggling to match the pace of his rivals. The event was eventually won by long-time pace-setter Jani Paasonen, who did enough to keep his Mitsubishi out of reach of team-mate Juuso Pykalisto.

Paasonen may not have won too many stages, but Pykalisto suffered problems between adding to his haul, and ended the day over a minute adrift of the class leader. Like Gronholm with Burns, Paasonen regretted the loss of challenger Jouko Puhakka, but was nonetheless delighted with victory. Championship leader Manfred Stohl took third in class after Gianluigi Galli lost a lot of time on the early stages.

Abdullah Bakhashab took Teams' Cup honours for Toyota Team Saudi Arabia, beating Frederic Dor's Subaru Allstars-run entry.

Gronholm and McRae had the most to celebrate, as their points hauls took them to the head of drivers' and manufacturers' standings respectively. Neither will be giving too much away over the remaining events, and Burns and Makinen will be sure to have their say before the year is out.

''The championship is still a long way off, and we have to consider the strength of Peugeot now'' admitted McRae, who has moved to within two points of second-placed Burns, ''But we'll be strong in Cyprus, and there's still everything to play for.''