Marcus Gronholm claimed his third FIA World Rally Championship win of the year today, and also completed a hat trick of victories at a bright and sunny final day on Rally Finland. The Finn's success has strengthened his championship lead to 17 ...
Marcus Gronholm claimed his third FIA World Rally Championship win of the year today, and also completed a hat trick of victories at a bright and sunny final day on Rally Finland. The Finn's success has strengthened his championship lead to 17 points. Gronholm enjoyed a comfortable final day, and was handed a further bonus when championship rival Colin McRae was forced to retire from third place, after his Ford Focus caught fire at the end of stage 20. Fellow Briton Richard Burns was runner-up, and enjoyed a similarly straightforward run to the finish. The main battle of the day took place between Subaru's Petter Solberg and Ford's Carlos Sainz, who fought tooth and nail for what became third place. Exuberance overcame experience on this occasion, as Solberg took the place by a scant 4.2s after three days, and more than 400 kilometres of competitive driving. Markko Martin took fifth place, and Tommi Makinen finally got himself into the points on the day that counts. He finished sixth. Other notable finishers include Peugeot privateer Sebastian Lindholm, in an excellent seventh, and former world champion Timo Salonen in 14th. The 50-year-old made an enjoyable one-off return to the sport in another privately entered 206 WRC.
Technical: The remaining Peugeot 206 WRCs of Richard Burns and Marcus Gronholm have been reliable today. Both drivers were careful to not to push the cars harder than necessary, given the comfortable margin between them and third place.
Sporting: Richard Burns won the day's opening stage by 0.2s from Markko Martin, Gronholm was third, just 0.5s behind the Briton. Thereafter the pair paced themselves, and the overall gap changed little by the end of the rally. Two of the three stages used on Sunday had not been used since 1997, and another was completely new, so in common with others, Burns and Gronholm were cautious on the new terrain. The pair allowed themselves one last sprint through the forests on the final stage, setting joint-fastest time.
Quotes: Marcus Gronholm said: "It looks good when you see the championship points, and I'm really looking forward to the next two [asphalt] rallies."
Technical: The Focus RS WRC02 of Colin McRae caught fire at the end of SS20. The crew realised the car was alight 500 metres before the end of the stage. They completed the test, but the blaze caught hold quickly. McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist escaped unhurt. Carlos Sainz and Markko Martin enjoyed a reliable run today. Sainz had one technical problem, when he picked up a puncture on SS18, and the run-flat mousse system in his Pirelli tyre deformed during the stage. Markko Martin regrets his decision to use a different set-up on day one of the rally, but says he has learnt his lesson for next time.
Sporting: Until the fire, McRae held a comfortable third place on Sunday, and took his first stage win of the event on SS18. Carlos Sainz spent the day locked in combat with Subaru's Petter Solberg in a fight for what became third place. He was furious with himself when he lost 10s to a jump-start penalty on SS18. The Spaniard said it was the first time in his career it had ever happened. Solberg passed Sainz in SS19, and between SS20-21 the Norwegian built a small advantage. Sainz was faster on the final stage, but it was not enough to re-claim the place when his penalty was taken into account. Markko Martin pushed hard with new-found confidence, but although he claimed stage wins on SS20 and SS21, he had a lonely day for fifth place.
Quotes: Colin McRae said: "I'm very disappointed, this should have been an easy third place."
Markko Martin said: "To be honest I'm a bit disappointed, because I expected better. It's a shame about Colin's retirement, but I'm happy to score some points."
Technical: Subaru's Impreza WRC2002s have been reliable today. Tommi Makinen remained unhappy with his engine's performance. Sporting director George Donaldson has promised a full investigation after the rally, saying that sometimes it is possible to have a problem that is not immediately obvious. The team plans back-to-back tests after the event. Additionally, Makinen evaluated a range of chassis set-ups that may be used later this year. Petter Solberg had no technical problems today.
Sporting: Solberg started the day in fifth, and lost a small amount of time to fourth-placed Carlos Sainz on the first two tests. But after Sainz's 10s penalty, and his first stage win of the event on SS19, the young Norwegian claimed fourth, which became third after McRae's fire. He overcame his nerves to maintain his position on the final stage, and take his second career podium. Makinen was unable to make any time on Markko Martin, but maintained a comfortable margin to Peugeot privateer Sebastian Lindholm, and claimed a single point for his efforts.
Quotes: Tommi Mäkinen said: "It's been a while since we finished, but we will have to work hard to catch the others on gravel."
Petter Solberg said: "I've never been so nervous before a last stage, I've been through some battles like this before, but this was the worst! I'm very happy."
Technical: The remaining Accent WRC3s of Armin Schwarz and Freddy Loix had no technical problems today. Loix changed his differential at last night's 45-minute service, but there is no other mechanical news to report.
Sporting: Loix began the day in 10th place, but quickly fell victim to a charging Thomas Radstrom, who passed him on SS18. The Belgian had no answer to the improved Citroen, until Radstrom crashed. Later on, he also came under attack by Radstrom's team-mate, Sebastien Loeb, who closed to within 5.8s of Loix at the finish. Armin Schwarz was running first on the road, and during the day's opening three stages, he struggled on the loose gravel. To prove the point, he was 12s faster on SS20, when the Keuruu stage was repeated. He dropped time to Skoda's Toni Gardemeister during the day, but maintained a huge margin to former world champion Timo Salonen, who was making a one-off rallying comeback.
Quotes: Freddy Loix said: "It was quite a good rally for us apart from yesterday when I lost 30-seconds in the morning, but otherwise it's been fantastic. The Hyundai will keep getting better."
Technical: Alister McRae's Lancer Evolution WRC retired today after hitting a rock on SS18 and damaging the rear suspension. The car could have been driven slowly out of the stage, but the crew decided it would be unfair, and dangerous for other competitors. Jani Paasonen's Lancer was reliable today.
Sporting: Jani Paasonen set fourth fastest time on the first stage of the day, the car's best result on the rally. The Finn took advantage of retirements to climb the order, and he nearly caught eighth-placed Sebastian Lindholm on the final stage, who was delayed by a broken half-shaft. Had Thomas Radstrom not crashed his Citroen on SS21, the Swede may have caught Paasonen.
Quotes: Jani Paasonen said: "I'm happy to finish with an undamaged car, and to have set a few good stage times."
Technical: Toni Gardemeister's Octavia WRC was reliable today. The Finn was able to drive to his maximum for all six stages on the final day of Rally Finland.
Sporting: Gardemeister began the day in 14th place and stretched his lead over Armin Schwarz behind him. He profited from the retirements of Radstrom and Colin McRae, but could not catch Ford privateer Janne Tuohino. He finished his home rally 12th.
Quotes: Toni Gardemeister said: "I've had some really good fun today, I've been flat out everywhere, big cuts even destroying some signs! I've tried to go less sideways than yesterday, but there was no choice other than to go flat out, which suited me."
Technical: Overnight set-up changes to the Xsara WRCs proved effective on the opening stages, and Thomas Radstrom said the car felt completely different, with no understeer anymore. His rally ended in SS20, when he slid off the road on a tight left-hand bend, and hit a birch tree, ripping off a wheel. Team-mate Sebastien Loeb enjoyed a trouble-free run to the end.
Sporting: Radstrom began the day strongly, and passed Janne Tuohino and Freddy Loix to claim 10th place. He began to catch Paasonen, before his accident ended the run. Loeb ran a similar pace to his team-mate, and progressed to ninth place at the end, 5.8s behind Loix.
Quotes: Sebastien Loeb said: "It's a first experience for all the team and now will work to find solutions for next year. We know what sort of roads we need to do some work on now."
Top privateer on Rally Finland, Sebastian Lindholm had a late scare, when a half-shaft on his Peugeot 206 WRC broke before the final stage. He completed the test with three wheel drive, but managed to retain his impressive seventh place. The next best privateer was fellow Finn, Janne Tuohino, driving a Ford Focus RS WRC01.
Group N was won by overnight leader Jarkko Miettinen, in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI. His winning margin was almost exactly the same as overall victor, Marcus Gronholm. It was the Finn's first time on this event in a four-wheel drive car, and he was particularly delighted, having had a trouble free event. Alex Fiorio claimed his first FIA World Rally Championship for Production Cars victory, from Kristian Sohlberg, championship leader Karamjit Singh, and Alfredo De Dominicis.