Marcus Gronholm is back on familiar territory, flying over the "yumps" in the Finnish countryside near Jyvaskyla, the home of Rally Finland. And it felt like home, with the Peugeot pilot taking a five-second lead over Sebastien Loeb on the first...
Marcus Gronholm is back on familiar territory, flying over the "yumps" in the Finnish countryside near Jyvaskyla, the home of Rally Finland. And it felt like home, with the Peugeot pilot taking a five-second lead over Sebastien Loeb on the first day, in spite of injuries to his co-pilot, Timo Rautiainen.
"It was one of the bad jumps," Gronholm explained. "Flat out in fifth gear, hard drop on flat ground, and Timo hurt his back. After that, it was pretty hard to drive, and I didn't know whether to drive or to stop. Timo indicated to keep going, though, but he couldn't read notes for me for the next 10 km."
At the service area after SS6, Rautianen received 30 minutes of intensive physiotherapy, and some medication to deal with the pain he was suffering from the impact to his chest. Gronholm was sweating bullets, but Rautiainen was able to limp back into the car and strap himself in.
"It has been a very good day for us but the last few stages were difficult because I was thinking about Timo's back all the time," Gronholm recounted the final stages of the first leg. "I was definitely backing off over some of the more violent crests."
In spite of the lack of notes for the last third of the fifth stage, Gronholm took the win by a 3.8-second margin over Sebastien Loeb -- but Loeb, too, got his scare in the jumps: his co-pilot Daniel Elena got his breath knocked out of him on one of the jumps.
"Coming out of a flat right, there wasn't a crest but a sudden dip in the road," Loeb recounted. "It felt as though we were free-falling. We took a big jolt when the car bottomed."
"It really took the wind out of me," Elena explained. "I must have looked like a fish gasping for air."
After some physiotherapy, though, the Citroen crew was back at full strength as well, and back up to full speed, and by SS8, Loeb was fast enough to nip Gronholm for the victory by three tenths of a second.
At the end of the day, Gronholm's five stage victories were the difference, and the two-time world champion held the edge over the championship leader. Rally Finland really is a two-way battle after the first leg, with Gronholm and Loeb over forty seconds clear of the rest of the pack.
Leading that pack is, unusually for 2005, Markko Martin in the second Peugeot 307 WRC, 41.6 seconds off the lead. Martin, who has struggled with the Peugeot's setup this year, also seems to feel at home, across the Gulf of Finland from his home in Estonia.
"I think I have felt more comfortable in the car today than I have since the start of the year," Martin beamed. "To do well in Finland mostly you need to have confidence, and I have good confidence in the car now. The new suspension set-up has helped me a lot. Tomorrow, if it is as slippery as it was on many of the stages today, it could get very interesting. But I feel able to attack now, so I'm looking forward to them."
Behind Martin, though, less than five seconds behind and separated by just a tenth of a second, are Toni Gardemeister and Petter Solberg, with Gardemeister's Ford Focus just ahead of Solberg's Subaru Impreza.
"It was an odd day," Gardemeister mused. "My position is good but the gap between myself and the leader is more than I wanted or expected. The tyres were good but the car slid too much this morning and I don't know why. There were a lot of loose stones on the surface and the roads were wet rather than damp."
"The car seems better in the dry than in the wet but I don't understand why," he continued. "I will make the ride height lower and see what effect that has."
Solberg, on the other hand, was comfortably in third place for much of the day, and after his second win of the day on SS6, he was only 17 seconds off the lead -- and 14 seconds in front of Martin. But then things fell apart, with the Norwegian losing 25 seconds on SS7, and then jumping off the road on SS8 and losing more time.
"We lost a lot of time when, after clipping the rear wing from the car, we had no downforce over a massive jump in SS8," Solberg explained. "We landed on the radiator, then went off into a ditch and hit a lot of rocks and trees. It is a long time since I had something like that. It was amazing that the car popped back out again and onto the road and we were able to continue. I think almost the whole side was ripped off and we still continued."
Beyond the top five, Mikko Hirvonen is still in a possible striking position for a podium in the second works Ford, 19 seconds back, but he needs a strong second leg to challenge. Harri Rovanpera holds seventh in the top Mitsubishi, while Janne Tuohino has the remaining works Skoda in tenth place, 2:55 behind Gronholm.