BP Ford team leader, Marcus Gronholm closed in on his fourth win of the season on his home event on Saturday, ending the second leg of the Rally Finland with a more than comfortable margin.
Gronholm dominated proceedings on day two and was quickest through seven of the day's eight tests to stamp his authority on the event, the tenth round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship.
While the battle between Gronholm and Loeb was pretty close through the first two tests, after Loeb hit a rock in SS12, losing 30-odd seconds, the Frenchman seemingly eased off, allowing the Finn to pull further and further ahead. Following the middle loop Gronholm was 49.7 seconds in front, before stretching that further in the final two tests. Heading into the overnight halt he is 1 minute 7.8 seconds up on Loeb.
Providing he can make it to the finish on Sunday, this will be Gronholm's sixth win in seven years on the event, formally known as 'The Rally of the Thousand Lakes'.
Loeb meanwhile looks like he will have to wait at least one more year before he can 'tick' off the Rally Finland. It is one of only two events on the current schedule that he has yet to win.
Early on he was matching Gronholm and was only 1.7 seconds off him in SS10, before going 1.3 seconds quicker in SS11. However SS12 proved pivotal, when Loeb cut a corner 5 kilometres before the finish of the Ouninpohja Ita 1 test and clipped a large bolder on the apex. The impact burst his Xsara's front-left tyre and the car arrived at the time control with shredded rubber flailing from its wheel. While a number of other drivers also hit the same rock, including Gronholm, this time it was Loeb who had the misfortune.
After that the Kronos Citroen
driver eased off, conscious that while he couldn't catch Gronholm anymore, he was still on for second and eight championship points.
BP Ford's Mikko Hirvonen
rounds out the top three, 40 seconds adrift of Loeb. The Finn cracked the windscreen on his Focus on the first run through the two Ouninpohja tests, but other than that he had an uneventful day, posting top five stages time throughout, including four third quickest times.
OMV Peugeot's Henning Solberg
is next up in fourth, although the Norwegian is two minutes behind Hirvonen. Henning was solid throughout and despite losing the front brakes in SS12, still managed to post the third best time!