WRC » 3 December 2006
Gronholm ends Ford's GB wait with Welsh win.
The young Finn outpaced rival Xavi Pons over the final four stages, repeat runs through Brechfa and Trawscoed, to take the position by over 40 seconds on his first run with the '06 specification Focus. Pons meanwhile could console himself with another solid points finish while deputising for champion Sebastien Loeb, although there was frustration at being unable to repeat the strong pace he displayed on leg two when he posted a series of top three stage times.
Chris Atkinson clinched sixth place after a tough weekend, losing a bundle of time on leg two when he stalled in stage six. Behind the Subaru man, Dani Sordo bade farewell to the Citroen Xsara with a seventh place finish – the Kronos man fighting back from a damaged gearbox on leg two to close in on Francois Duval and finally pass the Belgian driver on the penultimate stage. Eighth for Duval however was still a good result in the First Motorsport Skoda Fabia, leg two in particular seeing the former Citroen driver posting some encouraging stage times despite saying he was only driving at 70 per cent.
Rounding out the top ten were Harri Rovanpera and Jan Kopecky while Henning Solberg could only climb back as high as eleventh after rolling his OMV Peugeot onto its side on the opening leg. Matthew Wilson took twelfth on his home event as the leading British driver.
The most high profile casualty during the event, and the only M1 driver not to make it to the finish was the second BP Ford man Hirvonen. A collision with a rock towards the end of the opening stage didn't prevent the Finn from lying second at the first service halt on Friday but a damaged roll cage on the Focus forced him to retire. Also out on leg one was Andreas Aigner, the Red Bull Skoda youngster rolling on SS5 and failing to make it past leg one.
17-year-old Andreas Mikkelsen, driving a third Stobart VK Focus went off the road on leg one although he carried on under SupeRally and posted some encouraging lap-times to climb back up into the top 30 by the end of leg two. However an off on the opening stage of leg three brought his challenge to an end.
Briton Mark Higgins, in his first appearance of the season in a WRC car, had looked set for a top ten finish as he produced a solid display on the opening day and a half, before an engine problem forced him out after SS9 put him out of the event while Gareth MacHale was classified in 16th place after a clutch problem forced him out on leg two and then an oil leak made him park up before the penultimate stage.
Mads Ostberg, the other man in a prioty one WRC car rolled on the very first stage and retired on leg one, but he returned under SupeRally to bring his battered and bruised Adapta Subaru Impreza to the finish, climbing up from 109th after SS2 to finish inside the top 25, posting two top-eight stage times in the process.
In the JWRC, Jaan Molder took the victory after a dramatic event that saw nearly all the drivers hit problems of one sort or another. Kris Meeke, Guy Wilks and Patrick Sandell all dropped out while leading, while Urmo Aava, Per-Gunnar Andersson and Jozef Beres – the other three people fighting for the JWRC title, also had problems – five of the six drivers being forced to use SupeRally during the event at some point.
Luca Betti and Aaron Burkart completed the JWRC podium, with Barry Clark fourth to lift the rookie title.
The WRC finale also acted as the final round of the British Rally Championship, where Stuart Jones took a dramatic last stage win. Going into Trawscoed in third place, he outpaced David Higgins and looked set for second before a problem for leader Ryan Champion saw him lose well over six minutes and drop back to third.
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