Ford driver Markko Martin leads the ninth round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship – the Neste Rally Finland – after a dramatic day that saw the retirement from the lead of Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm.
His team-mate Richard Burns moved up to second and Citroen driver Colin McRae tumbled down the order after incurring a minute's time penalty, before crashing out of the rally on SS16. More drama was added when Burns dropped time with a wheel-bearing failure on the final stage, but he got back to service safely. At the end of Leg two, just one second covers second, third and fourth places!
The Peugeot of Richard Burns ran without mechanical problems today, until suffering a last-minute wheel bearing failure on the final stage.
Harri Rovanpera was forced to retire after going off the road on SS12. Marcus Gronholm was forced to retire from the lead after SS14, as a result of broken suspension and a lost front wheel.
Gronholm took the lead after SS12 this morning, but lost it in dramatic fashion during SS14. The first he knew of a problem was a soft brake pedal, then the right-front wheel and suspension came off 10 kilometres from the end of the stage. With a long road section and another stage in front of him, the Finn was forced into retirement.
Burns moved up to second following Gronholm's retirement, but Rovanpera got no further than SS12 after setting a third-fastest time on the opening stage of the day.
"I was debating whether to push like hell to win, or think of the championship," said Burns, "Now I suppose the most important thing is to finish the event."
Gronholm added: "I'm very disappointed to retire, as I think I could have had four Rally Finland victories in a row here. I don't know what happened, but I didn't hit anything. The brake pedal went soft, then the wheel came off. Maybe a wheel bearing broke."
Rovanpera continued: "I'm not quite sure what happened. We came over a crest into a slight corner and I was careful not to cut the corner after what happened yesterday. But the car didn't turn into the corner properly and we ended up on the other side of the road and into a bank."