A tug of war in the Swedish forests! The small town of Hagfors, the venue for the Swedish Rally's central service park, is well-known for its steel works and extensive forests. After a breathtaking battle on the icy roads that snake through the...
A tug of war in the Swedish forests!
The small town of Hagfors, the venue for the Swedish Rally's central service park, is well-known for its steel works and extensive forests. After a breathtaking battle on the icy roads that snake through the wooded countryside, Marcus Grönholm and Sébastien Loeb returned to parc ferme in one of the factories owned by the rally's title sponsor, Uddeholm tools. Separating them were just 10.2 seconds, in favour of the Finn.
To fully understand the extent of their epic duel, it is enough to look at the Vargåsen stage : at 39.95 kilometres the longest of the entire rally. Crowds of spectators line the route to witness spectacles such as `Colin's crest' the most famous jump of the rally. After 20 minutes and 45 seconds of relentless driving, Seb and co-driver Daniel Elena beat Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen by 0.8 of a second ! By grabbing another 0.6 seconds at the `Hagfors Sprint' superspecial, the reigning World Champions were able to reduce the gap to Grönholm to just 10.2 seconds. This gap had previously been 19 seconds after the Xsara crew picked up a 10 second penalty for starting SS2 late. This was caused by difficulties in closing the bonnet, after it was opened to remove the light pod used on the opening stage. A mistake in fastening it meant that it flew open before the start of SS2, smashing the windscreen, and it was difficult to secure again.
However, Seb does not believe that this penalty significantly affects the situation this evening. "There's no point in talking about that penalty all rally. With or without it, we would either still be behind Marcus this evening or just in front of him. We would still have had the same fantastic battle, with no quarter given or taken. We are all lucky to have experienced perfect conditions, which are really enjoyable to drive on. I'm pushing at my maximum and so is Marcus, to judge by the state of the snow banks in front of me ! Being the hunter rather than the hunted is never a bad situation to be in. And we are looking forward to continuing the fight tomorrow... "
Just like Seb and Daniel, Xevi Pons and Dani Sordo were also pleased with their day's work. "The first loop of stages was a bit tricky, "' said Xevi, from the Spanish province of Catalunya. " Compared to the Group N car I drove here three years ago, the Xsara is in another world. I needed to find a good feeling, particularly when it came to braking. My gap to Seb started off at 2 seconds per kilometre, but I halved that on the second run through the stages. I want to carry on at that pace while bearing in mind my main objective of bringing the Kronos team the maximum number of constructors' points at the finish. " Dani Sordo had said from the start: "I will judge my day by the progress I make over all the stages. " This evening, the reigning Junior World Champion had a smile on his face. "I've made good progress, so it's been a good day ! Apart from a tyre choice on the second loop of stages that could have been better, we made no mistakes. My feeling with the car is excellent. Driving on ice and snow over these really fast stages is great fun and very educational. It's been fantastic, and now I just can't wait for tomorrow... "