Gronholm dominates in Sweden Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen won their fifth Swedish Rally today as BP-Ford World Rally Team closed to within a point of the leaders in the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finns dominated this second round of the 16-event series in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, winning 11 of the 20 snow and ice-bound speed tests. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen claimed their eighth podium in the last 11 rallies by finishing third in another Focus RS.
The 39-year-old Finn led the four-day rally in central Sweden from midway through the first leg. He stamped his authority on the rally with five consecutive special stage victories yesterday and was able to pace himself through today's final leg. Grönholm's 26th career victory took him to equal second in the all-time standings alongside Carlos Sainz.
Drivers tackled 342.09km of stages, the bulk clustered around the small town of Hagfors, 90km north of the rally base in Karlstad. Frozen roads and plenty of snow ensured near-perfect conditions throughout. While the weather was relatively mild for a Scandinavian winter during the first two legs, today's final action was played out in bitterly cold temperatures that plunged to -22°C this morning as drivers prepared for the final five tests covering 86.32km.
Grönholm enjoyed a trouble free rally throughout and won a further three stages today to finish 53.8sec ahead of Sébastien Loeb and climb to second in the drivers' standings. "It was a perfect weekend with no problems for the car or with my driving," he said. "It's my fifth win here and that's an achievement I'm proud of.
"On Saturday morning I had the chance to substantially increase my lead over Seb and I took it. My advantage more than doubled in two stages and after that I had a little bit of breathing space. The only real problem this weekend was the temperature this morning. It was so cold on the first stage that there was ice inside the car on the rear windows and, even with foot warmers, my feet were so cold it was hard to feel the pedals," he added.
Team-mate Hirvonen recovered from early power-steering difficulties to climb to third yesterday. With no pressure from behind and no opportunity to catch those in front, the 26-year-old Finn eased through the final day to finish 47.7sec behind Loeb. He is now third in the drivers' championship.
"It was a good weekend but it wasn't easy because after I dropped time on Friday morning I had to fight to catch the drivers ahead of us," he said. "A podium was my minimum aim before the rally and I achieved that. I love the podium and I love points and I have a lot after two events. I don't think I've had so many points this early in the season before so that's a good start to 2007."
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson said: "It was a dominant display from Marcus. He made his move midway through the second leg when he extended his lead over Loeb by nearly 20sec in two stages and from that moment he was in charge. That was the turning point of the rally. Mikko also had a good second leg to settle himself in third and between them they gave us a good team result. It bodes well for the next round, in the same conditions, in Norway next weekend."
Jost Capito, director of Ford TeamRS, said: "Victory in Sweden shows that the team and Marcus will be strong contenders for both championships this year. The whole team did a fantastic job in conditions that are difficult to work in and we're looking forward to Rally Norway next weekend."
All three Swedish Ford Fiesta ST cars using bio-ethanol fuel finished the rally, the first time that any car powered by bio-ethanol has competed on a WRC event. They were led home by Andreas Eriksson and Per-Ola Svensson in 29th.
Pos Driver Make Time
1. Gronholm Ford 3:08:40.7
2. Loeb Citroen + 53.8
3. Hirvonen Ford + 1:41.5
4. Solberg Ford + 2:09.8
5. Carlsson Citroen + 3:37.8
6. Gardemeister Mitsubishi + 3:54.2
7. Stohl Citroen + 5:12.5
8. Atkinson Subaru + 6:14.7
9. Ostberg Subaru + 7:47.0
10. Kopecky Skoda + 7:52.5