22 January 2006
Gronholm starts Ford career with Monte victory.
BP Ford team leader, Marcus Gronholm has taken the victory on the Rallye Monte Carlo Sunday, to get his career with the 'Blue Oval' off to the perfect start.
The Finn, who grabbed top spot following Sebastien Loeb's off at the end of leg 1, eventually won by over 1 minute.
It is his first victory at the Principality - and his first on a seal-surface event. It was also the first victory for the new Ford Focus RS WRC 06, which to date has only contested two events - after being used this weekend and at the end of last season, at the Rally Australia.
Loeb meanwhile after dominating the event for the fifth year running had to settle for second - his off on SS6 costing him what would almost certainly have been his fourth Monte win in a row.
The Frenchman though, took advantage of the SupeRally format and re-started Saturday in eighth after his Kronos Racing mechanics had fixed the Xsara WRC overnight. He then charged through the remaining tests in a bid to make up lost time, snatching second place from Toni Gardemeister in the final test, to end the event 1 minute 1.8 seconds off Gronholm. Not bad at all when you consider the incident on Friday, cost him a 5 minute penalty for missing SS6.
Gardemeister despite all his efforts stood no real chance of holding off Loeb, who incidentally won 10 of the events 16 stages - 2 were cancelled due to crowd problems. That's not to say though he didn't try and the former Ford works driver was quickest in SS14, as he pulled out all the stops to hang onto the runners-up spot. It was still a good effort though from him, especially as this was his first outing in the Astra Racing run Peugeot 307 WRC.
A second 307 was fourth, namely that of Manfred Stohl, who ended the event on a high, with two stage victories in SS17 and SS18. The Austrian, who finished 2005 as the best privateer, was 20 secs or so off the podium in his Bozian Racing 307, run under the OMV Peugeot Norway WRT banner.
Subaru duo, Stephane Sarrazin and Chris Atkinson were fifth and sixth respectively, the latter doing well on his Monte Carlo debut, although admittedly after being second at the end of leg 1, the result was tinged with a certain amount of disappointment.
Mikko Hirvonen was seventh in the second all-new Focus while the final drivers' point paying position, went to Daniel Sordo. The reigning Junior WRC champion put in an impressive performance on his debut in a World Rally Car and was even second quickest in SS10 on Saturday.
Xavier Pons - in the second Kronos Xsara WRC 06 - was ninth, while Red Bull Skoda driver, Gilles Panizzi rounded out the top ten. Panizzi looked set for a strong result on Friday, but as the event progressed he faded and more issues on Sunday, including finishing SS15 on three wheels after hitting a rock and losing the left-rear wheel, relegated him to a non-points paying result, although he did still score 2 manufacturers' points.
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