20 May 2007
Sardinia - leg 3: Gronholm inherits win.
What a difference a day can make. Going into the final leg of the Rally d'Italia on Sunday it looked at if it would be the usual tale, with Sebastien Loeb pacing himself to another win. However it all went wrong for Seb in the first test of the day, when he made a mistake handing the victory to his chief championship rival, Marcus Gronholm.
Gronholm had led on day one, after overhauling Stobart Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala, who surprised many after a storming start.
Marcus however lost the position in the final test on Friday when he was slowed by a shock absorber problem and his charge was further dented on Saturday after he lost his spare wheel in SS8 and then had to take it carefully through SS9 after picking up a puncture.
That allowed Seb to build a comfortable cushion and after winning four of the six stages on day two, he ended proceedings having extended his lead from 22.4 seconds to 36.5 seconds heading into the final leg.
The short 10.66 kilometre run through S. Giovanni on Sunday though proved critical and when Seb went off the road towards the end of the test and got stuck in a ditch it, Marcus was suddenly back in P1. Although Gronholm himself had problems on the first test of the day on Sunday, and spun losing 17 seconds in the same test that was so bad for Loeb, he had enough of a margin over his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen for it not to be a concern.
Gronholm therefore did what everyone expected Sebastien Loeb would do and ticked off the remaining stages to take the win and the maximum ten points. The result gives him his second win of the season and moves him into the lead of the drivers' championship, which he lost following the Rally de Portugal. The Finn now has a 7 point lead over Seb, 55 points to 48.
Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile came through to take the runners-up spot, 30 seconds behind his team-mate. Mikko trailed Loeb and Gronholm pretty much throughout, although he still set some good times, including three stages wins on the final day. Hirvonen's efforts meant BP Ford scored 18 points in total, something that increases their lead in the manufacturers' from 9 points to a substantial 21 points.
Citroen's Daniel Sordo took the final spot on the podium, which was some consolation for the French manufacturer. Sordo put in a charge on Saturday and finally overhauled Henning Solberg in the final test of the day. Although the battle continue to rage on Sunday and at one point Henning cut the gap to 3.9 seconds, the Spaniard did enough and he eventually beat the Stobart Ford driver by 14.8 seconds.
Next up was Henning's brother, Petter and while the Norwegian shined early on and was on the pace of the front runners, he lost time on the second loop on Friday with brake problems. He continued to struggle during the remainder of the event and in the end had to make do with fifth.
After the Subaru star, Toni Gardemeister brought his privately entered Mitsubishi home in sixth, another solid result for the Finn with the Lancer WRC05. Juho Hanninen also scored in the other privately entered Lancer WRC, he finished eighth on his second outing with the car, one place behind OMV Kronos' Manfred Stohl.
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