Ford Focus driver Markko Martin had a great first day in the Swedish Rally. Martin overcame a 6.5 second deficit after the first stage to take the overall lead in the second round of the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship. Markko Martin...
Ford Focus driver Markko Martin had a great first day in the Swedish Rally. Martin overcame a 6.5 second deficit after the first stage to take the overall lead in the second round of the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship.
"This morning we were the second car through the stage and there were no lines or ruts from other cars so I was able to play with the car a little and choose exactly the line that I wanted. To be first with a lead of more than 20sec is better than I expected."
After placing fourth fastest in the 19.59km opening stage of this year's Swedish Rally, Martin finished second on the 19.20km SS2 to set up his back-to-back stage victories on the third and fourth long challenging Granberget one and two specials consisting of over 104km combined.
"It was very icy but really good fun," reflected Martin on the first run through Granberget. "Being second car through the stage there were no lines or ruts from other cars and I was able to play with the car a little and choose exactly the line that I wanted. Now I'm in front, all I can do is make sure I do the best job I can to stay there."
The Estonian leads Monte Carlo winner Sebastien Loeb by over twenty-three seconds as the curtain fell at the end of the first day of competition. Loeb placed his Citroen first on the final stage, 1.86km Hagfors Sprint.
Loeb, who had a spin on stage two, was pleased with today's outcome, "Today we had good conditions so we could fight with the others. Finally, we set the best time in the super special, which is good for motivation. We will try to keep up the same pace tomorrow."
"Unfortunately, the power steering failed with 20 kilometres of the long stage left to run," stated a disappointed Gronholm at the end of stage three. "Before then, the feeling was very good. Even with this problem, I knew that I still had to push but it was quite dangerous because the steering kept on jumping back at me. I dropped some time but I'm not giving up yet -- we still have a good chance. It should be a nice fight!"
The weather can easily affect the outcome of the Swedish Rally as the three-time winner of this event Gronholm is well aware of and one reason it is expected that the he will fight back, after all, it is only day one of a very competitive and difficult rally.
Tyres were a factor today, some choose good, others did not as the traditional winter "snowy" rally became a muddy bath due to the warm afternoon temperatures.
On stages three and four, it was obvious that Martin had made an excellent selection as he edged the competition. Gronholm and Subaru's Petter Solberg were able to keep up with the Ford driver's pace on the fourth stage.
The 2003 World Rally Champion Solberg climbed to third overall after stage four, a position he held at the end of the final short stage. Solberg is 26.9 seconds behind the overall leader.
The second stage fast time was set by Carlos Sainz who was then second overall to Gronholm. Martin and Loeb passed him by after stage three but the Citroen driver was holding off the challenge of Solberg. The wrong tyre choice did Sainz in as there was not a lot of ice on the gravel road and the tyre studs came apart costing the Spaniard dearly dropping him to fourth overall.
Gilles Panizzi's rally may have ended early as the Mitsubishi's second gearbox looked to be terminal. The first one had already been replaced by the team earlier in the day.
Ford is looking to keep the Manufacturers' points lead and with the rain expected tonight, the outlook for tomorrow is gravel roads without a layer of ice or snow on top.
"Our cars are where I expected them to be had the conditions been consistent. But the roads have been so variable and unpredictable that I'm even more delighted with the way the day has gone," Team Director Malcolm Wilson stated. " Markko drove superbly on both occasions in the long stage, Janne has driven sensibly to end the day inside the top six and Frangois showed how much he has learned about his pace notes when you compare his times through the long stage."