8 February 2004
Loeb breaks Nordic domination.
Citroen's Sebastien Loeb broke the Nordic domination of the Uddeholm Swedish Rally today [Sunday] by becoming the first driver from outside Sweden or Finland to win the rally in its 54-year history.
He claimed his second consecutive WRC victory, finishing 46.4 seconds ahead of Marcus Gronholm.
"It is great for me to win here," said the Frenchman, "Before the event I didn't really think this was possible, but when we came out of the big fight on day two with the lead, then it was good.
"It's very good for me to win on a surface that's not asphalt and the snow is very much like gravel, so hopefully this looks good for those events later in the season."
Loeb's Xsara WRC ran faultlessly through the two loops of three stages to the north of the rally's Karlstad base today. Heavy overnight snow continued into the morning, with the day's second test contested in particularly testing conditions. Loeb emerged unscathed, however, not only building his lead in the drivers' championship standings, but also making history.
His task was made easier when Gronholm spun on the opening stage and dropped more than 30 seconds. The Finn eventually finished second, to give the team's new 307 WRC its very first podium finish.
"After I spun this morning, I knew there was no point in risking everything to push hard," commented Gronholm, "It was just a typical spin, nothing special, but it cost us half a minute. Then I concentrated on making sure that I could come back and score the first podium for the 307 WRC. The car is still very new, and this is a good result under the circumstances. I made a couple of mistakes and we also had a problem with the power steering on the first day, so I think we definitely had the possibility to win here. But there is still a lot more to come from the car – it's not perfect yet."
Petter Solberg meanwhile completed the podium with private entrant and brother Henning completing the top six behind Ford's Janne Tuohino and the limping Carlos Sainz, whose engine troubles on the last two stages cost him 30 seconds.
Solberg enjoyed a more straightforward day than yesterday, when a mixture of mechanical trouble and spins, cost him valuable time and the chance of challenging for victory. In the end he was pleased with third, his best result to date in Sweden.
"It's been incredible, I'm very, very happy," noted the reigning world champion, "It's been a real adventure to drive over the past few days, very hard work and our luck has been up and down, but third is a good result. There's much more speed now and I'd say that my performance on snow has increased 100 per cent. I have to admit that before this event I was a little worried by my previous record here in Sweden, but I enjoyed this event and to have some points early in the year is good news."
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