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Gronholm looking good for Swedish success.


Peugeot driver Marcus Grönholm has tightened his grip on the second round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the Swedish Rally, which continued today.

The 2000 world champion set fastest times on all but one of today's six stages to ease clear of team-mate Harri Rovanpera. The two Finnish drivers have established a strong Peugeot one-two formation at the head of the field, with Rovanpera's nearest rival - third-placed Carlos Sainz - over a minute and a half behind.

The weather in the forests north of host town Karlstad has been considerably warmer in the last 36 hours, and the resulting thaw has left deep ice ruts on some of the roads and allowed gravel patches to poke through on others.

The unpredictable conditions have caught out several drivers - including points contenders Colin McRae and Jani Paasonen - and allowed less fancied runners to capitalise. Fast times from Kenneth Eriksson and Freddy Loix have kept Skoda and Hyundai in points positions for much of the day.

The Peugeot 206 WRCs of Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanpera have run reliably today, although Rovanpera has expressed concern at his car bottoming out over the ruts and bumps in later stages. Richard Burns's day has been basically troublefree too, although the Englishman's screen smeared right in his line of vision during SS8.

Grönholm knew he'd have to attack today to stifle the challenge from team-mate Harri Rovanpera and the 2000 world champion achieved his goal in a dominant fashion. He posted second fastest time on the day's opening stage and was unbeaten thereafter as he built his advantage up from 0.9 seconds last night to more than fifty seconds this evening. Rovanpera has already effectively settled for a second place that would give Peugeot a maximum score in the Manufacturers' series - last year's Swedish Rally winner has more than a minute and a half in hand over Carlos Sainz.

The third 206 WRC of Richard Burns has also charged today - despite a spin in SS7 the reigning world champion moved from an overnight 13th place to fifth by the end of today's last stage. He'll start tomorrow's final leg half a second behind fourth-placed Freddy Loix and just over half a minute behind third-placed Carlos Sainz.

Marcus Grönholm said: ''I feel confident. The conditions today have been much better for me and I've been able to attack. Unless we have a technical problem then I'm sure we'll be able to hold position and get a one-two for Peugeot. I've been pleased by my speed but I showed in Australia and Great Britain last year that I had this speed.''

Harri Rovanpera added: ''The fight is over. I don't think there's a chance to take 50 seconds from Marcus tomorrow and we have a good lead over Carlos (Sainz) so we can take good points for Peugeot. Of course I'm disappointed that we've lost the battle with Marcus but he's been doing really good times today and it hasn't been quite as good for us. We still have to concentrate anyway - there are still 130km of stages left.''



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