World Rally Champion, Marcus Gronholm was duly crowned 2002 Champion of Champions after defeating France's Sebastien Loeb in a dramatic Final of the prestigious Michelin Race Of Champions at the Circuito Ciudad Deportiva Islas Canarias, Gran Canaria, today.

The best of three Final went right to the wire where the Finn claimed the winner's laurels with a margin of just nine tenths of a second.

Side by side action throughout meant the double World Champion had to dig deep. In the opening round, he triumphed in the SEAT Cordoba WRC by eight hundredths of a second. Loeb then sensationally squared the contest by winning the next heat in the car that has carried Gronholm to two World Championships - the Peugeot 206 WRC.

"It was a really hard battle, but very rewarding. Loeb did incredibly well, he adapted himself to the 206 amazingly fast," expressed a clearly delighted Gronholm afterwards. "My car felt really great. I only made one mistake in the Final, running wide into the final corner of heat two which Loeb won."

Defeated finalist, Loeb, commented: "I am ecstatic that I could get so close and push the World Champion so far. I honestly didn't think I would make it to the Final, so I am very happy just to be here. I felt really confident on the track, and maybe with a little more time in the 206, I could have pushed Marcus even closer!"

Until the Final, Gronholm had maintained an unblemished record, beating NASCAR ace and 2002 ROC Nations Cup winner, Jimmie Johnson in the quarters and then 2002 ROC Junior champion, Francois Duval in the Semis, without losing a heat to either. Loeb's passage included victory over 2001 Champion of Champions and fellow WRC driver, Harri Rovanpera.

Earlier, 2002 ROC America winner, Kenny Brack had put in a series of stunning performances to dominate one of the two preliminary qualification groups with victories over the Italian triumvirate of 2002 European Rally Champion, Renato Travaglia, 2002 European Touring Car Champion, Fabrizio Giovanardi and 2002 250cc MotoGP World Champion, Marco Melandri.

The Swedish CART star then pushed Rovanpera all the way in the Quarter Final only to lose the third and decisive heat after stalling the SEAT Cordoba WRC car on the line.

As a result of this victory, Marcus Gronholm joins an illustrious rallying roll call, which includes such iluminaries as Carlos Sainz, Tommi Makinen, Colin McRae, Didier Auriol, Stig Blomqvist and Juha Kankkunen, all of whom have claimed the prestigious title of Michelin Champion of Champions.


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