BP Ford team leader Marcus Gronholm has triumphed on the Uddeholm Swedish Rally giving himself the perfect birthday present, as he turned 38 today.
The Finn dominated the event leading from the off on Friday, after he began with two stage wins.
Although Sebastien Loeb was never far behind as the event crept on, so Gronholm pulled ahead winning five more tests on Saturday and adding another three to his tally on Sunday. Although the final day was not without its dramas after a hydraulic leak on SS16, the Finn ended the event 30.9 seconds ahead.
The victory was the 20th of his career and his fourth in Sweden, it was also incidentally his second successive success with Ford, since joining them for 2006 and winning the season opening, Rallye Monte Carlo.
Loeb meanwhile had to settle again for the runners-up spot, as he did two weeks ago at the Principality. The Frenchman, who was somewhat hampered after he picked up a 10-second penalty on Friday, for checking in late to the time control before SS2, never really looked like overhauling Gronholm, even if on occasion he was just as quick – if not quicker. Loeb won eight tests in his Kronos ran Citroen Xsara WRC but was the first to admit at the finish that he just didn't have the same speed as Gronholm.
"I would have liked to win here but we could not compete with Marcus," he confirmed. "We tried all combinations of tyres and studs but we could not match the performance of Marcus."
Daniel Carlsson took the final spot on the podium after an exciting scrap with Gigi Galli, which saw the two Mitsubishi privateers never much more than a few tenths apart throughout much of the second and final leg. Carlsson eventually took third by 7 seconds, after Galli lost third gear in the final test, something that dropped him back - prior to that they had been separated by less than a second.
Thomas Radstrom was elevated to fourth position right at the death, after Janne Tuohino stopped 500 metres from the end of the last stage with an engine problem on his PH Sport ran Xsara. He was eventually classified 10th under the new SupeRally rules.
Kosti Katajamaki took sixth on his first ever WRC event in a World Rally Car, in the process he helped to open the account for the Stobart VK team, Ford's B team, which scored 7 manufacturers' points - six courtesy of Katajamaki, while Matthew Wilson was 14th to bag the final constructors' point.
Of the rest Xavier Pons was seventh in the second Kronos Citroen Xsara WRC, a good 25 seconds or so up on Henning Solberg who was eighth to nab the last drivers' point in his Bozian ran OMV Peugeot 307.