7 February 2004
Loeb takes over Swedish lead.
Rallye Monte Carlo victor Sebastien Loeb has assumed the lead of the Uddeholm Swedish Rally today, after Markko Martin slid wide on a right-hand bend in stage eleven and hit a rock, damaging his Ford Focus RS WRC03 extensively and leaving the Frenchman out in front.
Although the Citroen driver then came under increasing pressure from Marcus Gronholm, the double world champion also went off on the next test, damaging the intercooler and removing all the lights from the front of his car. Gronholm ended the day 40.6 seconds behind Loeb.
"I think Markko, Marcus and I are all pushing as hard as we can, it's hard to give any more on the stages," noted Loeb, "The stages have been quite nice today, there was some gravel in the re-run stages, but apart from that it's been good.
"Of course I am happy to be in the lead, but the gap isn't so large. Markko had a lead like that and look what happened to him - it's easy to make a mistake on this event."
Gronholm meanwhile, who is now second overall, having moved up from sixth at the start of the day, is refusing to give up the fight - the fact he won four stages today, three on the trot, proves that.
"The spin [in stage twelve] was just a stupid mistake, but it caused us a bit of a problem," said the three-time winner of the Swedish event. "It was not so easy to drive without lights! We're still in the race though, and we're going to be pushing hard again tomorrow, like we have been all day today. I think the gap to the front is too big to catch, but you never know in rallying. I'm certainly not giving up!"
Petter Solberg maintains third while Janne Tuohino is upholding Ford honours, the Finn fourth in the second Focus registered to score points.
Solberg, who won the day's final test, the super special, hit the same rock as Martin in stage eleven, luckily for him though the damage was less serious.
"It's been a difficult day," reflected the Norwegian, "I'm surprised at the final position, especially considering that, with the exception of the final stage, I haven't had an incident free stage all day. It's been great to see so many supporters out in the stages again. Hopefully, I can do a good job tomorrow to make them feel proud. Anything is still possible, even the win, I'm just going to do my best."
Tuohino is now determined to do all he can tomorrow to regain his podium slot though, so Petter better watch out.
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