WRC

Swedish Rally: Ford leg two summary

Grönholm extends lead after dominating second day in Sweden BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen dominated today's second leg of the Swedish Rally to extend their advantage at the top of the leaderboard. They...

Grönholm extends lead after dominating second day in Sweden

BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen dominated today's second leg of the Swedish Rally to extend their advantage at the top of the leaderboard. They won five of the day's seven speed tests in the frozen forests of central Sweden to arrive at the final overnight halt with a 25.1 second lead in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car.

Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen restarted this morning under SupeRally regulations. Their similar Focus RS suffered no serious engine damage when Hirvonen stopped on yesterday's penultimate test with overheating troubles. They incurred a 10 minute penalty for not completing last night's final two tests and, with all hope of a top result gone, concentrated on testing BFGoodrich's tyres to provide valuable data to assist with Grönholm's choice of rubber.

Numbingly cold temperatures greeted the restart early this morning in Hagfors. The thermometer touched -19?C as the cars left and never climbed above -8?C all day, providing the harshest of conditions for BP-Ford's mechanics to service the Focus RS cars. Drivers faced 127.80km of competition over the ice-bound roads, the day again ending with a spectacular crowd-pleasing sprint test in Hagfors ski stadium.

Driving the same Focus RS in which they won the Rallye Monte Carlo two weeks ago, the Finns began the day with a 10.2sec lead over Sebastien Loeb. Grönholm won the first five speed tests to stretch the gap. He was denied a sixth consecutive fastest time when he stalled on the start line of the penultimate test but the 37-year-old posted second fastest time on each of the final two tests.

"Everything has gone really well - the biggest problem I had is that the batteries have gone flat in my heated socks!" joked Grönholm. "I was slightly faster than Sebastien all day and that made me more relaxed. We made some small differential changes last night and the car handled really well as a result. The roads were a little rutted from the cars running in front of us and in some places there was snow on the road where they had smashed into the snowbanks.

"I stalled at the beginning of the penultimate stage and didn't really have a clean run but only dropped a couple of seconds to Sebastien. There are many kilometres remaining and you can never have enough of a lead. But I will continue to drive normally tomorrow and so long as we do not encounter any problems, then everything should be OK," added Grönholm.

Hirvonen and Lehtinen re-started in 33rd and were consistently in the top six times as they climbed the order to end the day in 16th. Twenty-five- year-old Hirvonen was effectively used as a tyre tester for his team-mate, sampling different stud combinations in BFGoodrich's rubber as the BP-Ford team analysed their effectiveness as a potential option for Grönholm tomorrow.

"I've not pushed hard and so I'm pleased with my times," he said. "I think there wasn't quite as much turbo boost as we had yesterday. The first stage this morning was twisty so I didn't notice it but the next contained a lot of long, fast straights and the car didn't seem as powerful. But that's OK because we can't score a good result now so my target was to test and the car was fine for that. We learned a lot about the tyres and studs which should help Marcus' tyre choice tomorrow."

BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson admitted he was 'happy and relieved' tonight. "I'm happy because Marcus' set-up changes worked and his performance today has been superb. And I'm relieved that the problem that Mikko had last night did not affect Marcus' car today," he said.

Finns Kosti Katajamäki and Timo Alane lie ninth in their Stobart VK M-Sport- entered Focus RS, sharing second fastest time with Grönholm on the last stage. Team-mates Matthew Wilson and Michael Orr are 17th despite dropping 2min 30sec after sliding off the road into a snowbank.

News from our Rivals

Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) was fastest on the final two stages to add to his tally of four second fastest times behind Grönholm. Gigi Galli and Daniel Carlsson (both Mitsubishi) enjoyed a fierce fight for the final podium place. They changed positions three times before Carlsson eked out a 0.3sec advantage. Mattias Ekström (Skoda) endured a frustrating day. A small off this morning was followed by an electrical problem this afternoon but after dropping to seventh from an overnight fifth, the Swede recovered to fifth, just 0.1sec ahead of Janne Tuohino (Citroen). Henning Solberg (Peugeot) climbed to sixth before losing 1min 45sec after rolling in stage 11. He is now ninth. Team-mate Manfred Stohl retired on the same stage after crashing into a ditch and ripping a wheel from the car. Petter Solberg's (Subaru) troubled rally continued. He dropped 45 seconds with gearbox problems on stage nine, slid into a snowbank on the following test and hit a steel post on the last stage, damaging the right steering arm and losing a further 2min 30sec. He is 14th. Kristian Sohlberg (Subaru) retired from seventh at the final service with engine problems.

Tomorrow's Route

The final leg is the shortest of the three, covering just 90.18km. Drivers leave Hagfors at 06.50 and tackle two identical loops of three stages to the north and east, split by service back in the town. They return to Karlstad for the finish ceremony at 15.02.

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Mattias Ekström , Marcus Gronholm , Sébastien Loeb , Timo Rautiainen , Kristian Sohlberg , Manfred Stohl , Mikko Hirvonen , Kosti Katajamaki , Gianluigi Galli , Malcolm Wilson , Jarmo Lehtinen , Henning Solberg , Janne Tuohino , Matthew Wilson , Michael Orr
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport