Monte Carlo Rally: Ford leg three interim summary

Grönholm heads to Monte Carlo with podium place on cards BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen ended the mountain speed tests of the Rallye Monte Carlo tonight in a comfortable podium position in their Ford Focus...

Grönholm heads to Monte Carlo with podium place on cards

BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen ended the mountain speed tests of the Rallye Monte Carlo tonight in a comfortable podium position in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. The Finns were no under no pressure from behind and took no risks as they eased through the day to preserve third position on this opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship with a just a short test remaining on Monaco's Grand Prix circuit tomorrow morning.

In contrast, team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen fought furiously with Chris Atkinson. They go to Monaco tonight with the Focus RS pair in fourth, ahead by just 0.8sec with 2.80km of competition to decide the outcome. The Finns won three of the day's six speed tests in the Haute-Loire region of central France in a thrilling battle with the Australian that saw them swap positions on virtually every stage.

The third and final leg began in darkness this morning from the rally base in Valence. Competitors headed north-west of the city to tackle two identical loops of three special stages covering 128.72km. Conditions were again dry and sunny in the mountains, although drivers reported a 500m section of patchy ice this morning -- the only winter weather encountered in an area normally blanketed by snow and ice at this time of year.

Grönholm had no realistic chance of catching the drivers ahead and was more than 1min 15sec clear of fourth-placed Atkinson at the restart. He posted two third fastest times and one second quickest in the opening loop. Despite his caution, Grönholm broke a wheel rim after clipping a bridge on the opening stage this afternoon but was able to continue unhindered.

"The feeling with the car was good but I didn't have to push because I'm under no pressure," said the 38-year-old Finn. "I just drove to finish the event. I couldn't catch the drivers ahead so there was no point in pushing like an idiot trying to do so. I have not had that much to do but still managed to hit a wall while crossing a bridge. I was lucky not to do much damage. The asphalt was dark and slippery as I approached the bridge and then 'bang', I hit the wall. Maybe I was driving a little too quickly at the time."

Hirvonen restarted in fifth in his BP Ultimate and Castrol-branded Focus RS, 17.2sec behind Atkinson. He slashed Atkinson's advantage to just 8.9sec on the opening loop, winning the final test. The battle raged even more on the second loop. Hirvonen won the first stage to move ahead by 0.4sec, Atkinson regained fourth by winning the next stage to move 7.2sec ahead and then Hirvonen won the final test to move back in front by just 0.8sec.

"That was a great day!" enthused Hirvonen. "It was brilliant fun to fight with Chris and tomorrow is going to be so exciting. It will be the first time that I have driven a super special stage at the end of a rally fighting for position and that's a fantastic way to end the event. Maybe I should call my friend Mika Hakkinen who lives in Monaco and ask him for some advice on how to drive the Grand Prix circuit! It's compulsory to use snow tyres so there will be plenty of sliding on the asphalt. I can't wait."

BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson said: "We have made the best of things to hold third and fourth tonight. Mikko has enjoyed a fantastic day. He is having a tremendous battle with Chris Atkinson that will be decided tomorrow. It will be a thrilling finale in front of the television cameras in the morning. What a great way to finish the rally!"

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Leader Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) was quickest on the opening stage but the Frenchman could afford to pace himself through the rest of the day. He ended with a 31.1sec advantage over Spanish team-mate Dani Sordo, who was also untroubled. Behind the BP-Ford duo and Chris Atkinson (Subaru), Petter Solberg (Subaru) lies sixth, despite escaping with just damaged steering after slipping into a ditch at a sixth-gear kink on the second stage. Brother Henning (Ford) spun at the same point. After two days' battle, Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford) closed to within 5.4sec of Jan Kopecky (Skoda) in their duel for the final drivers' points' position, but Latvala hit a wall on the last stage and dropped more than two minutes as he slipped from ninth to 11th. However, on returning to service the damage to the side of the car was too great for him to continue and he retired.

-credit: ford

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Mika Hakkinen , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Timo Rautiainen , Jari-Matti Latvala , Mikko Hirvonen , Jan Kopecky , Malcolm Wilson , Jarmo Lehtinen , Chris Atkinson
Teams Citroën World Rally Team