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.
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.