BP Ford's Marcus Gronholm romped home to take the victory on the Rally New Zealand on Sunday, the penultimate round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship.

Gronholm took the lead from the off on Friday and was 5.9 seconds up on his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen in the first test - the 20.38 kilometre Pirongia West stage, despite hitting a marker pole and knocking his steering out of alignment. He was then again fastest through the long 43.88 kilometre Te Koraha stage [SS2] and as such he increased his early lead to 17.7 seconds, despite the fact the conditions were extremely wet and muddy due to overnight rain. Indeed the wet conditions were something of a godsend for the Finn as he was running first on the road and the rain helped to bind together the gravel.

In the afternoon on day one the conditions dried out, but it made no difference to Marcus and he was 4.8 seconds up on Hirvonen in SS3, the second run through Pirongia, before adding another 5.7 seconds to his lead in Te Koraha 2 despite a 'little incident'. Gronholm then won the 3.14 kilometre Mystery Creek super special to take a 31.2 second advantage into the second leg.

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On Saturday morning all three tests were dogged by heavy rainstorms and as a result the stages became increasingly muddy as more and more cars passed through the tests. Visibility was also a problem and in parts of the 18.18 kilometre Port Waikato stage [SS6] drivers' could see less than 100 metres. Fog also played apart in the following test, the 13.88 kilometre-run through Klondyke. Despite all this though, Gronholm began the day in similar form to Friday, topping the times in stage six, narrowly in front of Kronos Citroen's Xavier Pons. In the next test though he eased of slightly complaining that he had the wrong tyres - he was still second fastest though, and he then completed the morning by posting the third best time in SS8.

Gronholm was back on it in the second loop and while it was still cloudy, the rain wasn't quite so bad. The Finn was fastest through Te Akau South, 8.2 seconds up on Hirvonen. In the final 'proper' test of the day, the rain returned and the ordering was reversed, although Gronholm was second best to Mikko by only 0.3 seconds. Marcus then finished the day by taking another stage win in the Mystery Creek super special, to take his tally for the day to three stage wins from six.

The final day saw no upsets at the top and with a 50 second cushion Gronholm could have taken it easy. He didn't though and he won all three stages in the first loop to further increase his advantage to 55 seconds. He more or less maintained the same approach in the afternoon, winning two more tests and finished the event 56 seconds up on Hirvonen.

It was his sixth win of the season and his fourth on the Rally NZ and one that was achieved in dominant style, the Finn winning 13 of the events 17 stages.

Mikko meanwhile, while eager to try and challenge his team-mate was mindful of Ford's bid to win the manufacturers' and the importance of scoring good points. Hence he opted to take it relatively easy and not try and push too much. He still set a number of good stage times however, winning SS10 and he was second fastest on nine others. The result, a one-two for Ford, guarantees the M-Sport-run outfit the constructors' crown, as they now have a 25 point lead over Kronos Citroen with only one round to go and a maximum 18 points available.

OMV Peugeot's Manfred Stohl took the final place on the podium, his second third place finish in two events - and his third of the season. The Austrian was engaged in a battle with Daniel Sordo for the place for much of the event and while he slipped behind towards the end of Friday after a spin in SS4 and lost further ground on Saturday morning when he went for the wrong tyres, he came back in the second loop and ended Saturday's action 16.9 seconds in front. Stohl maintained his position on Sunday and eventually took the spot by 16.8 seconds.

Dani while disappointed to lose out on what would have been his fifth podium of the season, was still pleased with his form, especially as he was making his debut in NZ. He had a relatively trouble-free event, and his only real problem came towards the end of SS2, when he had a puncture. On the penultimate test though he was passed by his Kronos team-mate, Xavier Pons and as a result he dropped down to fifth. Pons in contrast, finished the event on a high and taking two stage wins on the final two tests.

Further-down the order, Petter Solberg rounded out the top six in his 'works' Subaru Impreza after another event to forget. Petter struggled to find any grip on day one and then had intercom and driveshaft problems on the first loop on Saturday. Although he was happier as the event drew on, he was not at all pleased to finish more than 4 minutes off Gronholm, having never been in contention for a podium finish, let alone able to challenge for the win.

Luis-Perez Companc brought his Stobart VK-backed Ford Focus home in seventh, the first time he has managed to score 'senior' WRC points. The Argentine was very consistent on day one but complained that his road position left him at a disadvantage - with the roads badly cut up and rutted by the time it was his turn to go through the tests. On day two, he hit a rock in SS8 and broke the rear right wheel. He limped to the finish but the incident cost him over a minute. He moved back up into the points in afternoon though after a couple of drivers' in front of him had difficulties. On the final day he had nothing to gain and everything to lose and so he just paced himself to the finish.

Jari-Matti Latvala took the final WRC point in eighth in his Group N Subaru Impreza. The Finn also took the Production Car WRC win, his second in succession after also winning in Perth three weeks ago. While Latvala led from the off and for much of the event, it wasn't all plain sailing and he lost the lead early on Friday when he spun in SS2 and although he re-took it on SS3 and held on to P1 until the end of Saturday, he was then handed a one minute penalty for speeding in the service park. As a result he dropped to second, before again going back up to first when Mirco Baldacci stopped in SS14 with gearbox problems.

Juho Hanninen and Richard Mason rounded out the top ten, the latter taking the runners-up spot in the PCWRC class, albeit over 4 minutes adrift. Alexander Dorosinskiy was third in the PCWRC standings while Nasser Al-Attiyah clinched the 2006 FIA Production Car WRC title, ending the season with five more points than Fumio Nutahara. Al-Attiyah had a nervous final day after he retired from the leg in SS13 with engine problems - he finished seventh under the SupeRally though, one spot behind Nutahara.

Of the other drivers', MotoGP ace, Valentino Rossi finished just outside the top ten in eleventh, having got more and more confident in his privately entered Subaru Impreza WRC car as the event wore on. Indeed he finished up having set six top ten stage times.

OMV Peugeot's Henning Solberg had to settle for twelfth after he rolled his 307 on Saturday in SS10 and conceded lots and lots of time, plummeting from seventh overall to 14th, losing a good 14 minutes. Matthew Wilson was the only other 'manufacturer entry' to finish, one place further down. The Brit had to retire from the first leg in SS3 after an impact with a rock caused water loss from the engine and overheating. He rejoined the fold on Saturday and set some good times on the final day.

Chris Atkinson was the most notable retiree - the Aussie went off the road seven kilometres into the Te Akau South super special [SS9] on Saturday. Atkinson, who was running eighth overall, hit a rock, which tore the front-left tyre from his car and caused him to slide off the road. Although the car didn't hit anything, the damage caused by the initial impact with the rock was too severe for him to carry on. He was not able to re-start on Sunday as the roll cage was slightly damaged in the incident.

Of the rest, four PCWRC drivers' retired as well, Aki Teiskonen going out before SS1 with electrical problems, while Chris West crashed out on day two and Natalie Barratt and Leszek Kuzaj called time on the final leg.

The WRC 'circus' now returns to Europe for the final round in the championship, which will take place early next month. The Wales Rally GB runs from December 1-3.