WRC

Gronholm takes early lead in Rally Finland

Gronholm takes early lead in Rally Finland

Marcus Gronholm is on track early as he chases his sixth victory in Rally Finland, the tenth round of the 2006 World Rally Championship. The Ford pilot took five stage victories on the first leg and holds a 12-second lead over championship...

Marcus Gronholm is on track early as he chases his sixth victory in Rally Finland, the tenth round of the 2006 World Rally Championship. The Ford pilot took five stage victories on the first leg and holds a 12-second lead over championship rival Sebastien Loeb at the first overnight break.

Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen.
Photo by xpb.cc.
Loeb had won the short Killeri 1 superspecial on Thursday night, but Gronholm was in no mood for taking prisoners, and pulled out 13 seconds on the Frenchman in the 25-km Lankamaa special first thing Friday morning, flying his Focus over jumps and through puddles.

Both drivers struggled at times in the wet and slippery conditions, and there was little opportunity to drive conservatively.

"The roads were extremely wet in places and dry in others," Gronholm recalled. "The rain was so heavy in one stage this afternoon that the windscreen wipers would not go fast enough and I just couldn't see.

"Still, we have to drive flat out," he continued. "When I tried to take things calmly today, Loeb was there right away."

Loeb had similar issues dealing with the heavy rain in his Kronos Racing-run Citroen Xsara, as the Finnish weather was apparently determined to make up for a summer's worth of drought in one day.

"It's not easy to get straight into the sort of rhythm required for the Rally Finland, which you need to grasp quickly in order not to let Marcus get away," the French ace admitted. "It becomes even more difficult when the going gets rough with rain, puddles, and streams of water."

Hometown hero Mikko Hirvonen, who lives in Jyvaskyla, the central point of the rally, ran as high as second after SS2, when Loeb slipped back, but could not keep up with the pace of the Frenchman's Citroen. Still, at the stop, he is holding a 9.4-second lead in the second Ford Focus over 2003 WRC champion Petter Solberg.

"Third is a good position tonight, although first or second would be even better," Hirvonen said. "At times this afternoon I was overdriving at every corner and as a result the car was sliding too much. It's quicker to back off before the corner and take the bend in a straighter line. There were so many corners that I got wrong and I needed a calmer pace."

Solberg, too, rued the weather, the Subaru driver losing time like the other front-runners.

"We've been very unlucky with the weather and then losing time stuck behind Manfred Stohl," he explained. "For tomorrow we're going to keep pushing as we want to get up onto the podium. I feel the car has improved very much particularly when jumping and in the rougher parts of the stages."

Behind the leading four it's a big gap, with Solberg's elder brother Henning in fifth in a privateer Peugeot 307 WRC, 55 seconds adrift of his sibling. Chris Atkinson in the second Subaru, Daniel Sordo in the second Kronos Citroen and Gigi Galli in another privately-entered Peugeot hold the remaining points-paying positions.

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