A sixth win for Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen (Ford/BFGoodrich) in the land of the Flying Finns * Marcus Gronholm's sixth Rally Finland win takes him level with the score of Markku Alen* * BP-Ford/BFGoodrich closes to within 15 points of...
A sixth win for Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen (Ford/BFGoodrich) in the land of the Flying Finns
* Marcus Gronholm's sixth Rally Finland win takes him level with the score of Markku Alen*
* BP-Ford/BFGoodrich closes to within 15 points of Kronos Total Citroen/BFGoodrich at the top of the Manufacturers' standings
* BFGoodrich drivers claim fastest time on every stage of the 2006 Rally Finland, and one of them is sure to win the 2006 world title
For the sixth time since 2000, Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen (Ford/BFGoodrich) have taken the laurels on their home event. And once again, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena emerged as the Finnish pair's biggest threat until a concealed stone dashed the Citroen/BFGoodrich crew's hopes on the afternoon of Day 2. The BP-Ford/BFGoodrich team's other Finns Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen joined Marcus and Timo in the top-three to pick up a podium finish on home soil.
After convincingly warding off early pressure from archrival Sebastien Loeb, Marcus 'lead foot' Gronholm went on to secure victory on his home round, the fastest and most furious of the entire championship with stages covered by the leading crews at average speeds of more than 120kph and countless leaps of up to 50 metres between rows of ominously close pine trees.
As the habitants of Jyvaskyla woke up to torrential rain on the morning of Leg 1, Marcus Gronholm (Ford/BFGoodrich) appeared to have the rally practically sewn up already. In the 25km Lankamaa stage alone, he pulled 13 seconds clear of Sebastien Loeb who was running first on the road in extremely wet conditions. From that moment on, it seemed to be all over bar the shouting since even clawing back a single second from Gronholm here in Finland is a very difficult exploit indeed.
Even so, Sebastien Loeb (Citroen/BFGoodrich) succeeded in winning four of Leg 1's nine stages and was also fastest over Saturday morning's legendary Ouninpohja test. Covered at an average speed of 128kph, it saw the Frenchman put in a perfect run: not one excessive slide, an ideal line from flag to flag, jumps worthy of the best locals and a continuous bid for optimal traction throughout. Yet at the finish he was only 1.3 seconds quicker than Gronholm!
At this point in the rally, Loeb trailed Marcus by 12.4 seconds - practically the same gap that had split the two former World Champions at the end of Leg 1 - but he had by no means given up all hope of catching his Finnish rival. However, the outcome of the 2006 Rally Finland tipped definitively in the Ford driver's favour on the very next stage...
Approximately 5km from the finish of SS12, Loeb's Xsara clouted a half-buried rock concealed on the inside of a fifth-gear corner. The impact tipped his car onto two wheels and the front left rim was left shattered resulting in an inevitable puncture which saw Loeb lose 32 seconds and any remaining chance of victory.
Marcus Gronholm hit the same rock, although fortunately only with the outer edge of his rim. The mousse insert inside his tyre did its job perfectly and enabled the Finn to complete the stage at full rally speed. In a way, it was revenge for a very similar incident in Sardinia last May which eliminated Gronholm after he had run over a rock while Loeb, who also hit it, was able to continue!
Ford/BFGoodrich's other Finn Mikko Hirvonen produced the sort of performance that was expected of him to finish a safe 3rd once free of the pressure from Petter Solberg who destroyed his Subaru in an off. As a result of the Day 2 retirement of Dani Sordo (Citroen/BFGoodrich, accident), Ford/BFGoodrich pocketed 16 manufacturers' points in Finland to close within 15 points of current championship leaders Kronos Total Citroen/BFGoodrich. Meanwhile, a BFGoodrich runner is now sure to win the 2006 Drivers' World Championship. The only question is which one?
Henning Solberg (4th, Peugeot/BFGoodrich) finished more than two minutes off the podium but ahead of the Peugeot 307 of Gigi Galli (5th), while Janne Tuohino (6th, Citroen/BFGoodrich) and Jussi Valimaki (7th, Mitsubishi/BFGoodrich) emerged as the best-placed local privateers.
(*)Hannu Mikkola has won this rally seven times, including three prior to the creation of the World Rally Championship in 1973.
Marcus Gronholm (Ford/BFGoodrich): "Everything was perfect tyre-wise this weekend. I covered practically the entire rally on soft compound g-Force Gravels. The mousse system was a huge help on Saturday when I hit a rock on Ouninpohja and also today (Sunday) towards the end of the rally when my front right wheel hit something just off the road. At the sort of speeds we get up to on this rally, the run-flat mousse system is an important safety feature."
Aime Chatard (BFGoodrich Rallies Programme Manager): Our testing here in July proved very valuable because it was carried out in the same conditions as those we encountered here this weekend, namely a mixture of rain and sunshine. Rally Finland is without doubt the least hard-wearing round of the year for tyres. On the other hand, the constructions do tend to take a great deal of punishment. We need to pay very careful attention to the sidewalls which have to soak up huge forces as the tyres repeatedly come back to Earth after the event's countless jumps. With air speeds of around 170kph, the landings are very heavy. Within a mere hundredth of a second, the tyres must be capable of bearing the weight of the car and crew, soaking up considerable dynamic loads and providing faultless steering precision and traction. But despite all this, Rally Finland continues to be a true driver's rally..."