Marcus Gronholm closed in on his second win in succession in Sweden on Saturday, after dominant display in his Ford Focus WRC, which left all his rivals trailing.
Although Gronholm lost out in the first test and had to settle for second best, something that allowed Sebastien Loeb to cut his advantage by 1.2 seconds, the Finn was back on it in SS10, the 34.54 kilometre Liljendal stage to ensure the damage was only minimal. Indeed Gronholm's overnight cushion went down from just 11.1 seconds to 10.5.
The second loop though was to prove the decisive one and Gronholm managed to more than double his advantage, 7.6 seconds quicker than anyone else in Torntorp 2 and 6.8 seconds better in Vargasen 2. As such he headed back to the mid-day service area at Hagfors with a 27.6 second advantage over Loeb, who had to settle for the fourth and third best times in the same stages.
In the afternoon, Marcus dealt what could well turn out to be the killer blow, adding two more stages wins to his tally and further stretching his lead. Following the second run through the Hagfors Sprint, the 39-year-old finished the leg 38.4 seconds in front, something that gives him a comfortable margin ahead of the final day on Sunday and the remaining 86 competitive kilometres, which is spread over five tests.
Loeb for his part, had no answer to Gronholm's pace and while he matched him on the first loop, a bad tyre choice on the second cost him dear and the Frenchman eased off in the final three tests, seemingly content to settle for the runners-up spot and the eight points that goes with it.
Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile now lies third, having recovered from the power steering problems on day one, which cost him time on the first three stages. Mikko was right up there throughout the second leg, consistently setting top five times, to overhaul Henning Solberg and to stay in front of Toni Gardemeister. With both of his rivals slipping back on the third loop the Finn will take a 30-odd second 'lead' into the final leg, something that should ensure him of his first podium finish of the year.
Henning for his part was keeping Mikko honest for much of the day, until a spin in the penultimate test, when he was blinded by the sun, cost him around 10-12 seconds.
Gardemeister also suffered in the same test, the 26.47 kilometre Lejen stage, when mechanical problems cost him around 2 minutes. Early reports suggest the Mitsubishi man had driveshaft issues, but whatever it was, it cost the Finn considerable time and dropped him from being in the battle for third, to eighth, just 10 seconds or so off Stobart Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala, who is running ninth.
Gardemeister's misfortune though benefited Daniel Carlsson, Chris Atkinson and Manfred Stohl and each gained a place, moving up to fifth, sixth and seventh respectively.