Marcus Grönholm has scored his second home victory on the Rally Finland, the ninth round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship.
The Peugeot driver took over the lead yesterday morning and never surrendered it thereafter, despite challenges from team-mate Harri Rovanperä and Richard Burns. Burns eventually finished runner-up to Grönholm after late suspension problems prevented Rovanperä from scoring a one-two for Peugeot.
He claimed fourth, behind Ford's Colin McRae, who was the leading world title contender. McRae's third overall closed the gap between the Scot and world championship leader Tommi Mäkinen to six points, while Carlos Sainz also narrowed his deficit to the series top spot by scoring a point in sixth.
Today's three long stages were again held in dry, sunny conditions, and none of the leading protagonists hit enough trouble to force retirement. But two of the fancied privateer crews - Juuso Pykalisto and Raphael Sperrer - crashed out at the same corner.
At Peugeot Marcus Grönholm suffered ATS mousse break-ups in the front tyres of his Peugeot on this morning's long opening stage but otherwise the reigning world champion's 206 performed reliably. Harri Rovanperä was not so fortunate - he lost time when he clipped a rock on the first stage and broke a valve in a tyre. Then on the penultimate stage, he again suffered from an oil leak in a damper and as the problem worsened, he had to ease off considerably to ensure a finish.
Peugeot had told its drivers to take no risks and make sure of a maximum points haul in the manufacturers' series, so Marcus Grönholm started today's tests confident that team-mate Harri Rovanperä would pose no serious threat. The reigning world champion duly rattled off the three stages to score his first win since Australia last November. Harri Rovanperä expected to have to settle for second today but damper problems and a broken valve on his tyre eventually dropped him to fourth by the finish.
Marcus Gronholm said: ''There has been a bit more of a fight this year but at the same time, I've never really felt under big pressure. Harri was pushing hard of course, and Richard too, but when Harri had some problems yesterday I became a bit more comfortable. I feel a bit sorry for him today, because he deserved to finish on the podium. I don't think this result really puts me in the fight for the championship but it helps Peugeot a lot and we'll see what happens in New Zealand.''
Harri Rovanpera added: ''I saw the oil coming out of the damper on the stage before the last and I had to back off because if I'd broken it completely, I could have retired. Of course I'm disappointed because I wanted to fight and at least keep second place, but it gives me even more determination for next year.''
Team Peugeot Total Director Corrado Provera concluded: ''We are delighted for Marcus and Timo, and feel very sorry for Harri and Risto (Pietilainen). But our main aim is still the manufacturers' championship and in that we have moved up to third. The improved efficiency and performance here gives us improved optimism for New Zealand next month. In Harri we have discovered a new Finnish diamond after Marcus and it is almost certain that he will be with us again next year, and hopefully for a long time after that.''