Gronholm stretches BP-Ford's Rally GB lead in Welsh forests BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen extended their lead during today's second leg of Rally GB. The Finns won five speed tests in the forests of south...
Gronholm stretches BP-Ford's Rally GB lead in Welsh forests
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen extended their lead during today's second leg of Rally GB. The Finns won five speed tests in the forests of south Wales in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, and returned to the final overnight halt in Swansea with a 1min 18.8sec advantage in this 16th and final round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Today's action was based in the forests and military land surrounding the Epynt ranges in the Brecon Beacon mountains, north of the Swansea service park. Competitors tackled two identical loops of three special stages, split by service. The day ended with a spectacular test inside Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, where a huge crowd provided an electric atmosphere under the arena's closed roof. Drivers tackled 104.30km of competition in total.
Overnight rain ensured the gravel forest tracks remained slippery this morning while a strong breeze in the mountains ensured temperatures felt colder than the recorded 4C when the action began. Gronholm, who restarted with a 25.8sec lead, opted for BFGoodrich's soft compound tyres throughout the day, with small cuts hand carved into the rubber. The roads had a harder base than those used yesterday and did not become as rutted during the second pass.
The 38-year-old Finn was second fastest on the opening 19.47km Crychan stage before setting fastest times through both the 13.76km Epynt and the 18.37km Halfway tests. He returned to service in Swansea having extended his lead to 62.4sec, closest rival Petter Solberg dropping time on the opening stage after sliding into a ditch.
"It was really slippery but there was no rain on the stages so conditions weren't too bad," said 38-year-old Gronholm. "The first cars on the road had an advantage in those conditions but there was nothing to worry about where I was. The surface was hard so the roads weren't cutting up. I made no mistakes and was able to ease off a little when I heard that Petter had gone off."
Gronholm was also fastest during the second pass through Epynt and Halfway to extend his lead further, despite heavy rain. He ended the leg by delighting the Millennium Stadium crowd as he sped to his fifth fastest time in seven tests today, and his ninth in 13 stages in total.
"I tried to continue pushing this afternoon because I don't want to have to fight hard tomorrow, but the times didn't come so easily. Tomorrow's stages are technically difficult and always very, very slippery and it's not the place where I want to have to push. The weather forecast is bad for tonight, with heavy rain, so it could be a long and hard day," he added.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson said the Focus RS had run 'faultlessly'. "Everything has gone to plan and Marcus' job was made easier by Petter's mistake this morning," he said.
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Petter Solberg's (Subaru) hopes of catching Gronholm suffered a blow when he slid off the road for almost 30sec on the opening stage and dropped to third. He regained second, but hit a gatepost this afternoon and damaged his car's steering which cost a minute and second place. Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) kept out of trouble to reclaim second, 49.9sec clear of Solberg. Xevi Pons (Citroen) climbed to fourth, edging out Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford). Chris Atkinson (Subaru) rounded off the top six, despite being unhappy with his car's set-up this morning. Francois Duval (Skoda) had steering problems this morning but recovered well to hold seventh ahead of Dani Sordo (Citroen), who dropped 90sec after a broken gearbox forced him to tackle the final two stages of the morning loop with only three gears.
The final leg of the rally promises to be the most difficult of all. After leaving Swansea at 06.40, drivers face two identical loops of two long and demanding stages in Brechfa Forest, split by a return to the service park. The roads are technical and twisty and always treacherously slippery. Heavy rain is forecast for the early hours of the morning and that will increase the hazards. Competitors return to Cardiff's Millennium Stadium for the finish ceremony at 15.41 after another 112.00km of competition.