16 November 2002
Rally GB gears up for Martin vs Solberg.
The final round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship is poised for a grandstand finish tomorrow, after a second leg filled with drama on the Rally of Great Britain.
Newly-crowned world champion Marcus Gronholm crashed out of the event this morning, opening up a close fight for the lead between Ford's Markko Martin and Subaru driver Petter Solberg.
Neither of these drivers, part of the sport's younger generation, has won a world championship event before. They ended the day separated by just under two seconds, so a close finish to the season looks likely.
Gronholm was one of the several drivers to be caught out by a stretch of asphalt road on the day's third stage, ''Halfway 1''. His retirement means that he cannot now match Didier Auriol's record of six victories in one season. But Peugeot still has an outside chance of matching Lancia's record of nine wins in a year - outgoing world champion Richard Burns moved up to fourth today, behind Carlos Sainz and ahead of Tommi Makinen, Sebastien Loeb and Colin McRae.
The Ford Focus RS WRC02s of Martin, Sainz, McRae and Mark Higgins have all been reliable during leg 2, although the Spaniard and the Scot broke windscreens in Crychan 1. Higgins' only worry occurred when he suffered a gearbox glitch and was unable to select neutral before the start of a stage with the paddle-shift system. Using the regular gear stick solved the problem, though, and the paddle system worked fine once he'd started the test.
Martin attacked hard in Resolfen this morning and it was enough to catapult him back past Solberg into second overall. But the Norwegian fought back in the next two stages as Martin was left dissatisfied with his choice of tyres. Their battle turned into one for the lead on the second of those tests, Halfway, when leader Gronholm crashed out, so Estonian Martin now has a chance to claim his first world rally victory. He ended the day, following the final Cardiff Super special 1.6 seconds ahead of Solberg.
Sainz meanwhile felt that his tyre choice for the long Resolfen test this morning was not perfect, but the Spaniard has kept in touch with the leaders throughout this afternoon. He completed leg 2 in third, less than half a minute off the lead.
McRae, inched closer to Makinen today and then in the final run over the superspecial this evening, he spun dropping to seventh overall behind Citroen's Sebastien Loeb. Ford's fourth driver, Higgins, has been satisfied with an improvement in his pace as he moved up to eighth overall.
''I don't really feel any pressure - we can only try our best, after all,'' noted Martin. ''If we make a spin and lose the rally because of that tomorrow, then I'll be disappointed. But if we do our best and Petter wins just because he's been that bit quicker, then fair enough.''
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