The time difference between Markko Martin and Marcus Gronholm at the end of the first day was only two and six-tenths seconds, and the pair carried the tight battle into the early stages of day two of the Rally Finland. All international eyes...
The time difference between Markko Martin and Marcus Gronholm at the end of the first day was only two and six-tenths seconds, and the pair carried the tight battle into the early stages of day two of the Rally Finland. All international eyes were on this battle between the two top drivers for Ford and Peugeot.
On SS4, Martin slipped and Gronholm took the advantage, the two traded the overall leaderboard throughtout the first day. And then there was today, the second day consisting of 167.92km on the route.
Gronholm won the first stage, the SS11 Paijala to close the gap between him and the leader Martin by 0.7 seconds. On the Ouninpohja 1 stage 12, Gronholm took the lead by 3.7 seconds.
To add to the battle, Peugeot's Richard Burns won the SS13 as Martin suffered an electrical problem dropping the Ford to sixth for the stage. Burns' win kept him in touch with the two overall leaders.
Citroen's Colin McRae finished third on SS13 to keep him in fourth and still in the rally for first overall. However, things change and on stage 14, Ouninpohja 2, Gronholm was out of the rally. The right front wheel cam off of the Peugeot for, at this time, unknown reasons.
"It's a real shame as I think we could have made it another win here," a disapppointed Gronholm expressed. "I was quite confident that we would be quick on all of today's stages. I certainly didn't hit anything, so we will have to see what caused this problem."
Martin's comment after learning of Gronholm's retirement: "It was a great battle with Marcus and I'm sad he retired because we were both having such fun."
McRae won the stage with Burns second and Martin still having problems was back in fifth. Citroen's Sebastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz was third and fourth. Martin retained the overall lead by 19.4 seconds over Burns. Subaru's Petter Solberg had quietly moved into third overall with consistent finishes.
Burns, Sainz and McRae kept the charge to the front for the fifteenth stage, with one-two-three finish and Martin back in fourth. Solberg finished sixth for the stage allowing an almost tie for second through fourth.
McRae's day came to an end on the SS16 when he rolled the Citroen while in fifth overall. Both McRae and co-driver Derek Ringer were uninjured.
"We had complete electrical failure," Martin said of his problem on stage 13. "We went as fast as we could so as not to lose too much time, but also not to take any risks."
The battle continues tomorrow with the pressure sitting solely on the shoulders of Martin to bring home the victory. Putting the pressure on the Ford driver will be Peugeot's Burns, Citroen's Sainz and Subaru's Solberg - all hoping that the overall leader runs into trouble on the remaining
Not yet out of the picture are Citroen's Loeb and Subaru's Tommi Makinen; the veteran Finn has quietly been moving up the leaderboard today with the longshot hope of winning his home rally one more time.
On going into the final day as the leader, Martin commented, "If we can avoid problems and keep the car on the road I think we'll be OK tomorrow. I will drive at 100 per cent or just under."
Burns hopes to extend his championship points lead tomorrow with a podium finish, "I don't think there's a chance to win now, but I'm absolutely determined to keep second place -- I've worked hard for it! Tomorrow will be like starting the rally all over again."