16 May 2004
Gronholm victorious in Cyprus.
Peugeot #1 Marcus Gronholm scored his first victory since Argentina last year today [Sunday] in Cyprus to move into the lead of the drivers' championship.
His winning margin over Sebastien Loeb was 54 seconds and he now leads the series by a single point from the Frenchman.
Gronholm put in a storming drive, and never looked threatened through the final leg, the Finn notching up what is the first ever victory for the new 307 WRC.
"It's been a fantastic rally for me, and of course it's a real privilege to take the first win with the 307," he noted. "We've come close to winning before this year, but this time it was a rally where everything went right for us. The car has been generally reliable and we haven't made any mistakes. The whole team has worked very hard and everybody deserves this result. Now we are looking forward to Greece, where of course we will be trying to win again."
Loeb survived a small fire at the rear of the car near the end of stage 13, and despite not ever being in contention for the victory, was happy with his weekend's work.
"Above all, I wanted a top result here in order to stay in the leading pack in the drivers' championship," stated the Frenchman, "Obviously, if a chance to win had come my way, I would have snapped it up and I certainly kept my eyes open. but Marcus Gronholm was very quick and gave absolutely nothing away. Compared with last year, the gap between us and the winner, has been divided by five and we finished one place higher, even though there were practically no retirements. That speaks volumes for the fantastic work the team has done on the car."
Team-mate Carlos Sainz finished fourth behind Ford's Markko Martin and ahead of Harri Rovanpera, who had another replacement gearbox fitted midway through the day after continued troubles.
Martin, like Loeb was happy to finish on the podium, especially after he had started first on the road on Friday, 'sweeping away' the loose gravel.
"We were first to tackle the stages on Friday and that was a difficult day, but we knew that was going to be the case," reflected Ford's team leader. "Once you lose time here, it's hard to regain it. I'm happy to be third in the championship going into the next round in Greece because that will give us a better start position. I'm actually pleased not to be leading because it would be a big disadvantage to have to start first during the opening day there. I think we'll be strong there."
Rovanpera meanwhile could only think of what could have been...
"I could have been on the podium if we had not had some gearbox problems," reckoned the Finn, before adding more positively: "Although that's disappointing, there are a lot of positive things to come out of this. I have been able to drive at the same speed as Marcus, and the car has clearly shown its potential. I feel more and more confident with the 307 WRC and I can't wait for the next rally!"
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