Peugeot driver and reigning world champion Marcus Gronholm emerged from the final leg of the Uddeholm Swedish Rally to win the event by 50.8 seconds from Subaru driver Tommi Makinen. Gronholm controlled the rally from the second stage and made it...
Peugeot driver and reigning world champion Marcus Gronholm emerged from the final leg of the Uddeholm Swedish Rally to win the event by 50.8 seconds from Subaru driver Tommi Makinen. Gronholm controlled the rally from the second stage and made it to the finish without suffering any mechanical troubles aboard his 206 WRC. This was Gronholm's third win on the Karlstad-based round of the FIA World Rally Champion in four years. Makinen took his best result since winning the Monte Carlo Rally last year - and the new Impreza WRC2003's first podium finish. Richard Burns took his best result in Sweden, finishing third - one place higher than in 2002. Burns had been troubled by a set-up problem with his 206 WRC which made it difficult for the Briton to get a feeling for the car under braking.
Markko Martin turned in an impressive performance to fend off his fourth position from Colin McRae. The Ford driver's only fastest time of the rally - on SS16 - was enough to secure the place for him.
Citroen had reason to celebrate, with Sebastien Loeb and Colin McRae joint leaders of the driver's championship, while Citroen heads Peugeot by two points in the manufacturer's race.
Janus Kullig of Poland won the opening round of this year's FIA Production Cars World Rally Championship in his Mitsubishi.
Technical: The 206 WRCs of Marcus Gronholm and Richard Burns were mechanically untroubled today. Harri Rovanpera crashed out yesterday.
Sporting: Marcus Gronholm made it safely through the final day, setting eight fastest times on his way to ten points and his first win of 2003. The Finn said he'd dropped his pace a little over the closing stages, ensuring that he made no mistakes which might have given second-placed Tommi Makinen a glimpse of the number one spot. Gronholm'sm only minor drama on the final day was his studs going off for the final ten kilometres of the Brunnberg stage. Richard Burns changed the dampers on his car at first service this morning, but the Briton admitted the new set-up hadn't helped that much.
Marcus Gronholm said: "In Brunnberg I backed off a little, it felt like all of the studs had come out of the front tyres, but I think it was just the tread moving around."
Richard Burns said: "It's good to get to the finish and I'm reasonably happy with the result. We made no mistakes, but it was hard without much feeling today."
Technical: The two Impreza WRCs ran without any mechanical trouble today.
Sporting: Tommi Makinen continued an ultimately fruitless pursuit of Marcus Gronholm throughout the day. The Finn made one final alteration to the set-up in service after SS14, but it wasn't enough. Makinen was disappointed to have missed out on the win he said the speed of the car had given him great confidence for the remainder of the this year's rallies. Petter Solberg closed in on Colin McRae's fifth place through the first two stages of the day, and missed out by just 3.3s after a last gasp effort through the final stage, where he set fastest time.
Petter Solberg said: "It was so hard to try and catch Colin, but we had to try. I think the problem for me in Sweden is experience - the drivers ahead have done a lot more competitive driving in these conditions, but then that fastest time was great for my confidence."
Tommi Makinen said: "We have shown how good the car is here. I took a little gamble on the final stage, using snow tyres, but it didn't work, we couldn't catch Marcus. I am happy with this result. I didn't expect it when we came here."
Technical: Both Ford Focus RS WRCs ran faultlessly today. Francois Duval crashed out on the opening leg.
Sporting: Markko Martin knew he'd have his work cut out keeping Colin McRae behind him today, but the Estonian proved that he was up for the job, stretching his advantage over the Scot on the day's first two stages and then set his first fastest time of the rally on SS16 to pull ten seconds out of McRae, clinching the position. Mikko Hirvonen's progress to the end of the event was without drama. The 22-year-old Finn admitted he was relieved to get to the end after crashing out of the first round.
Markko Martin said: "I had never done SS15 before, so it took me a while to remember it from the recce. When Colin took some time out of me in there, I knew I had to respond. I attacked the next stage hard and everything worked. At the last split I saw I was already nine seconds up on everybody, so I backed off a little."
Mikko Hirvonen said: "The car has been perfect all of the way through the rally, and I've got some good experience of this event, which is what I set out to do."
Technical: All three cars ran without any problems today.
Sporting: Colin McRae maintained his fifth place to the end of the event. The Scot admitted that he'd been too steady through the day's opening stage. He clawed some time back on fourth-placed Marko Martin through SS15, but said his chance of snatching the extra point disappeared when the Ford driver put in a blistering time through the next test.
Sebastien Loeb brought his Xsara WRC home in seventh position, despite being slowed down too early for privateer driver Janne Tuohino's accident on SS14. He moved past Freddy Loix on SS15 and then battled through the final stage with team-mate Carlos Sainz and Skoda's Toni Gardemeister, leap-frogging them both to make seventh.
Sainz hadn't had any problems during the day and was still working on the set-up of his car.
Colin McRae said: "It was tricky this morning. We had to push to try and catch Markko, but any mistake from us would have meant that we might have let Petter past. After where we'd been running on the first day, this is a pretty good result."
Sebastien Loeb said: "This morning everybody was waving at me to slow down for two kilometres before the place where Tuohino's car was off the road. After what happened to Harri (Rovanpera) yesterday, I was worried so I slow down to 50kph and then we got there and his car was not even in the road. Stupid. It cost me at least ten seconds. I had a really big push through the last stage and it worked, we got the places."
Technical: Didier Auriol's Ocatvia WRC suffered a hydraulic problem on the final stage. The sister car of Toni Gardemeister ran without any mechanical problems.
Sporting: Toni Gardemeister said he couldn't have driven any faster than he did through the first two stages of the day. He wasn't quite so quick through Hara, however. The narrow nature of the stage didn't suit the Skoda as much as the earlier tests. Despite his best efforts, Gardemeister slipped behind Sebastien Loeb, but he held off Carlos Sainz and ended the rally in eighth place. Didier Auriol admitted he'd lost confidence in the car during this rally. The former world champion didn't put a scratch on his Octavia and added that he and the team had learned a lot for the next season.
Didier Auriol said: "I really didn't have the feeling for the car and without that it's very difficult for me to push as hard as I want. We have lots of experience from this rally, now we must go away and get it right for next year."
Toni Gardemeister said: "We have gone so hard today, there's been nothing left in the car. It was a little disappointing that Sebastien passed me, but I am really happy to have held Carlos off and got the team and myself a point."
Technical: Freddy Loix's Accent WRC ran without trouble today, but Armin Schwarz's car suffered a misfire on SS16.
Sporting: Freddy Loix slipped back behind the Citroen Xsara WRC of Sebastien Loeb, but still made the top ten, comfortably ahead of Ford's Mikko Hirvonen. Loix also dropped time when he was slowed down too early for the Janne Tuohino's accident. Schwarz held 13th despite a penultimate-stage misfire. The car was dropping on to three then two cylinders every time the engine went onto boost. The German had to drive the car for 25km in this condition.
Armin Schwarz said: "The team has worked so hard on the reliability of the cars for this event, they have done a good job, it was just frustrating to get this misfire today. Yesterday's change of turbo made a bit of a difference for us and gave us a little more power, but I am happy to get to the finish."
Freddy Loix said: "There's not much to say. Everybody knows the engine's not so strong and that showed here, but it's good that we got to the finish, it's a shame that we just missed out on a point for the team."
Janus Kullig won the Production Cars WRC category after turbo failure on SS15 forced Subaru driver - and category leader - Toshi Arai into retirement.
Stig Blomqvist (Subaru) was second after a trouble-free event, while Karamjit Singh overcame the differences between his native Malaysia and Sweden to bring his Proton home third.
The outright Group N award went to local Mitsubishi driver Kenneth Backlund. Of the non-works World Rally Cars, Kristian Sohlberg was the first privateer finisher in his Mitsubishi Lancer WRC.
Janne Tuohino had been lying inside the top ten when he slid off the road on SS14, spending six minutes in a ditch.
FIA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (provisional standings after 2 of 14 rounds):
FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers:
Loeb (F) 12, C. McRae (GB) 12, Gronholm (FIN) 10, Burns (GB) 10, Martin (EE) 10, Makinen (FIN) 8, Sainz (E) 6, Solberg (N) 3, Robert (F) 3, Duval (B) 2, Schwarz (D) 1, Gardemeister (FIN) 1.
FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers:
Citroen 24, Peugeot 22, Ford 15, Subaru 11, Hyundai 3, Skoda 3.
FIA Junior World Rally Championship
(after 1 of 7 rounds, this event not counting): Tirabassi (F) 10, Katajamaki (FIN) 8, Ligato (I) 6, Broccoli (RSM) 5, Aava (EE) 4, Ceccato (I) 3, Sebalj (HR) 2, Baldacci (RSM) 1.
FIA Production Car World Championship
(after 1 of 7 rounds): Kulig (PL) 10, Blomqvist (S) 8, Singh (MAL) 6, Rowe (GB) 5, Bourne (NZ) 4, Holowczyc (PL) 3, Roman (S) 2, Sztuka (PL) 1.
NEXT EVENT: February 27 - March 2:
Rally of Turkey, Antalya, Turkey