Sebastien Loeb (Citroen-Michelin) extends his Drivers' championship lead thanks to a brilliant 2nd place Finland's two-times World Champion Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) came out on top in a memorable clash with Citroen-Michelin's Sebastien Loeb ...
Sebastien Loeb (Citroen-Michelin) extends his Drivers' championship lead thanks to a brilliant 2nd place
Finland's two-times World Champion Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) came out on top in a memorable clash with Citroen-Michelin's Sebastien Loeb to secure the fifth win of his career on his home event. Second place for Loeb is nonetheless a first class result for the Frenchman who now enjoys a lead in the Drivers' standings of 28 points over his closest chaser - Gronholm - with Rally Deutschland, an event in which the Xsara driver has gone unbeaten since 2002, coming up next on the calendar. Markko Martin (Peugeot) ended the weekend on the podium, while Petter Solberg (Subaru) held on to 4th spot despite constant pressure from the excellent Mikko Hirvonen (5th, Ford-Michelin).
Winning Rally Finland was one of this season's objectives for Sebastien Loeb, Citroen and Michelin and this magical three-cornered partnership, which won six rallies on the trot between April and July, was effectively able to take the fight to the locals and has no reason to feel ashamed for settling for 2nd in Jyvaskyla today. Competing over stages he knows by heart thanks to fifteen participations, Marcus Gronholm put in a perfect run, not making a single mistake despite the charging Loeb forever snapping at his heels.
The Frenchman effectively kept up the fight all the way up to the penultimate test of Leg 2 (SS16) when the deficit finally reached the half-minute mark and the Citroen driver chose to lift to make sure of scoring Drivers' and Manufacturers' points rather than risk throwing everything away. Just after this decision, he picked up a puncture when his front-right tyre hit a rock on landing after a particularly awkward jump and saw him drop more than a minute behind. From that moment on, Marcus Gronholm was able to cruise home to his first WRC win since-- the 2004 Rally Finland!
With its amazing jumps and average speeds in excess of 122 kph, the Finnish event is without doubt the fastest and most furious round of the series and this year's event got off to a flying start with only the 2003 World Champion Petter Solberg (4th, Subaru) initially able to match the leading pair's pace . Sebasti en Loeb (Citroen -Michelin) and Marcus Gronholm took turns to smash the existing stage records for SS2, 3 and 4 and rapidly pulled clear of the pack thanks to their maximum attack driving style and some exceptional leaps which saw the backs of their respective co-drivers, Timo Rautiainen and Daniel Elena, suffer badly.
The opening day saw Sebastien Loeb finish just 6 seconds behind Gronholm , but the second leg took place over particularly fast stages which the Peugeot knew inside out and over which his 307 WRC was in its element. Loeb dropped the odd second here and there which allowed the Finn to start the longest test of the rally (SS16, 40.96 km) with an advantage of 23 seconds over the Citroen man . Despite his best efforts, Loeb had only managed to claw back a few tenths of a second midway into the stage and at that moment (wisely) decided to throw in the towel as far as his battle with Gronholm was concerned .
Meanwhile, the 2003 Rally Finland winner with Ford-Michelin and the man who brought Michelin its 200th WRC success, Markko Martin (3rd, Peugeot) had pulled progressively clear of his main rivals, namely Toni Gardemeister (6th, Ford-Michelin), Petter Solberg (4th, Subaru) and Mikko Hirvonen (5th, Ford-Michelin). Gardemeister was running very strongly and was up to 4th overall before losing a couple of minutes following a puncture on SS16 which dropped him to 7th. The setback didn't seem to deter the Finn in the slightest, however, since he went on to post the fastest time in the following test and eventually passed his fellow countryman Harri Rovanpera (7th, Mitsubishi) to steal 6th spot on the final day.
Nominated for the first time as eligible to score Manufacturers' points forFord, the young Mikko Hirvonen also put in a top performance on home soil. He took his fight with Solberg for 4th place all the way to the finish and only failed in his bid to squeeze pass the Norwegian by 5 seconds! Francois Duval (Citroen-Michelin) scored a point for himself and for Citroen by finishing in 8th place, although Peugeot has narrowly regained the advantage in the Manufacturers' standings. Henning Solberg (9th, Ford-Michelin) was the first privateer home and the top ten was rounded off by Skoda-Michelin's FinnJanne Tuohino.
Rally Finland continues to stand out as a highly selective round because of the sheer speeds the drivers reach (in excess of 200 kph) along narrow, tree-lined forest lanes. There is a high price to pay for the slightest error, which Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi), Jani Paasonen (Skoda- Michelin) and Chris Atkinson (Subaru) - to name but them - all found out to their cost.
FINLAND FOR THE FINNS. Given the importance of the stakes at play this weekend for Sebastien Loeb, Citroen and Michelin, thorough preparation went into Rally Finland. And the final result of this weekend's high quality showdown is positive for Loeb. The Frenchman dropped just 2 points to Marcus Gronholm who went on to collect his fifth win in this event (including four on Michelin tyres). Loeb now enjoys a lead of 28 points over Marcus Gronholm in the Drivers' standings.
TITANIC CLASH. Sebastien Loeb was practically level with Marcus Gronholm nearly all the way to the end of Leg 2. The average difference between the two men at that point was a mere 1/10th of a second per kilometre. In the end, the combination of the French driver's experience, the optimised set-up of his Citroen and his Michelin Z BTO tyres enabled him to improve on his 4th place in the final standings in 2004 to finish 2nd overall this time round, even though the pace was much, much quicker than last year. Numerous stage records were effectively beaten during the weekend and Loeb improved the best time for SS2 (25 km) by no less than 7 seconds.
AN AVERAGE OF 152.4 KPH! Marcus Gronholm covered the ultra fast firs t 5.8 km of SS15, which fully suited the Peugeot, at an average speed of 152.4 kph (Loeb: 150.2 kph).
TAKE OFFS. For the predominantly damp stages, Michelin's drivers mainly opted to run the soft compound Z8 BTO tyre. Rally Finland is the WRC round during which tyres spend the least time on the ground.
--AND HEAVY LANDINGS. It is estimated that tyres have to withstand loads of up to 2 tonnes when hitting the ground after a Finnish-style jump at a speed of 160 kph. In many cases, the car actually lands on just one or two wheels. When ill luck results in one of the tyres landing on a half-buried stone, the cut produced by the impact generally exceeds 5 cm in length and the ATS mousse can be sliced in two, making a puncture inevitable. This is the misfortune which happened to Sebastien Loeb approximately 6 km into SS17.
BACK PAIN. A short word of tribute to co-drivers Timo Rautiainen, Daniel Elena, Tomi Tuominen and their colleagues who were all put to a tough physical test by the repeated, heavy landings to which they have been exposed all weekend. WRC drivers and co-drivers are sometimes described as extra-terrestrials-- but there are above all vertebrates!
RALLYING AND ATHLETICS On Saturday August 6th, while the WRC runners were in the midst of a thrilling long-jump contest in Jyvaskyla, the world's top heptathlon specialists were fighting it out in Helsinki. Similarly to rallying's place in motorsport, heptathlon is the most wide-ranging of all athletics disciplines. And, as in rallying, the athletes use a different type of footwear for the seven competitions in which they compete: a very stiff sole (Z9+) for the high jump, stiff (Z9) for the 100-metre hurdles and soft (Z8) for the 800 metres.
UP NORTH! Since the beginning of 2005, Michelin has won every WRC round organised in southern Europe, yet the French firm has failed to win either of the two rounds contested to date north of Clermont-Ferrand! Michelin is nonetheless very much looking forward to the challenges of Rally Deutschland and Rally GB!