WRC » 3 June 2006
Gronholm all but guaranteed victory?
BP Ford team leader, Marcus Gronholm will go into the final leg of the Acropolis Rally on Sunday, the eighth round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, with a commanding lead.
The Finn was kept honest all day on Saturday by Sebastien Loeb and although the Frenchman only won two of the six tests, while Gronholm won the other four, the gap between the two remained fixed at around 25-30 seconds at least it did until the final test of the day, the second run through Psartha.
Loeb encountered major problems on SS13, when his left rear tyre exploded 1 km from the start. As such he dropped back and Gronholm's now enjoys a 1 minute 47.2 seconds lead going into the overnight halt.
"Now I feel lucky," said Gronholm following the final test of the day. "It is easier now, but I still have to finish tomorrow. I am happy driving such a good car."
Loeb though despite having to struggle through the final test and then back to the service in Athens, at least remains on course to take the runners-up spot in his Kronos Racing-run Xsara.
Petter Solberg meanwhile was not so fortunate and after slipping down to third following problems this morning, which included a small off in SS10, he was again struck by misfortune this afternoon, when he was forced to retire from the leg on the road section to SS13. The Norwegian had to swerve to avoid a car coming towards him on the wrong side of the road and collided with a rock wall. Luckily nobody was injured in the incident but broken steering components made it impossible for him to continue. Assuming he can re-start tomorrow under the SupeRally format he will do so from ninth.
Mikko Hirvonen moved up into third as a result of Petter's incident after another solid day at the wheel of his Focus. The Finn is a good minute up on Daniel Sordo, who put in a charge to climb from ninth to fourth in the third Kronos-run Xsara. The Spaniard ended the day 3 seconds or so up on OMV Peugeot's Manfred Stohl, while Henning Solberg completes the top six, a further 3 seconds back in the sister 307 WRC.
Henning had brake problems on SS9 this morning and had to disconnect the damaged rear brakes prior to SS10. However he was two minutes late starting Psatha 1 and as such picked up a 20 second penalty. Without that he would have been ahead of his team-mate and Sordo.
Further-down the order, Toni Gardemeister is seventh, the Finn enjoying a reasonable day in his Astra Racing Citroen Xsara WRC, while Xavier Pons is eighth and on course to take the final drivers' point. Pons had a few issues during the day, but nothing that was too notable.
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