A first for Solberg, Gardemeister and Ford-Michelin go top of the championship Norway's Petter Solberg (Subaru) collected his first Swedish Rally win this weekend after a thrilling dice with Marcus GrÃ¶nholm (Peugeot) and reigning World Champion...
A first for Solberg, Gardemeister and Ford-Michelin go top of the championship
Norway's Petter Solberg (Subaru) collected his first Swedish Rally win this weekend after a thrilling dice with Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) and reigning World Champion Sébastien Loeb (Citroën-Michelin) which ended when the Finn rolled out and the Frenchman retired with engine problems on the final day.
Michelin remains on top of both the Drivers' and Manufacturers' championships, however, thanks to Toni Gardemeister -- 3rd in Sweden -- and Ford. This year's Swedish Rally was complicated by the conditions which were more akin to icy stones and gravel than the traditional mix of ice and snow encountered in recent years.
But that didn't stop the past three World Champions -- Sébastien Loeb (2004), Petter Solberg (2003) and Marcus Grönholm (2002) -- from engaging in a raging battle before a series of incidents ultimately handed victory to the Norwegian on the final morning.
After the weekend's opening loop of stages (52 km) on Friday, this threesome was split by a mere 2/10ths of a second. At the end of Leg 1, it was the three-times Swedish Rally winner with Peugeot- Michelin, Marcus Grönholm, who topped the leaderboard, 2/10ths of a second clear of Subaru's Petter Solberg, while Sébastien Loeb (Citroën-Michelin) followed just 10s down, despite losing fifteen or so seconds in an overshoot on SS4.
With close to 140 km on the menu, the second leg was the longest of the weekend and lived every bit up to its promise. Sébastien Loeb was quickest through the day's first test, but his Scandinavian rivals retaliated immediately and, after two further, albeit minor errors, the Citroën-Michelin driver slipped a little further back. He posted another best time on the tricky SS12, made especially challenging by the numerous exposed rocks, but Solberg fought back once again with a fastest time on the following test. Then, in the Hagfors super-special, the final stage of the day, engine trouble forced the Xsara WRC driver to back off.
Citroën mechanics succeeded in temporarily curing the problem at the end-of-leg service and Loeb was able to re-start on Sunday morning, but the engine finally expired two stages from home. On the whole, it didn't turn out to be a great weekend for Citroën since Loeb's team-mate François Duval also hit trouble on Saturday afternoon when he was forced to stop and change a damaged wheel, dropping five minutes and dropping thirteen places down the leaderboard. Even so, the Belgian fought back to finish 12th overall and salvage a single point for his team following the last-minute retirement of Skoda-Michelin's Janne Tuohino. Victory finally went to Solberg on the second stage of Sunday morning when Marcus Grönholm, who was trailing the Norwegian by 13 seconds at that point, rolled out of the event. Loeb's retirement shortly afterwards handed 2nd place to Markko Märtin (Peugeot), while Toni Gardemeister concluded his first outing with Ford-Michelin on this highly specific event in 3rd spot.
Thanks to his runner-up finish in Monte Carlo and his podium this weekend in the Värmland, the Finn takes over from Loeb at the top of the Drivers' standings. And with Norway's Henning Solberg profiting from an excellent run on the second leg to pocket 5th overall, Ford now enjoys a clear lead in the Manufacturers' points table with Rally Mexico the 2005 season's first gravel fixture and scene of a Ford-Michelin one-two twelve months ago -- next up on the calendar. Driving a WRC for the first time at this level, the defending DTM Champion Mattias Ekström (Skoda- Michelin) figured strongly before dropping four minutes with a power steering problem on Day 2. He still managed to end the weekend in 7th place to pick up two points for his team, although the Czech firm's harvest could even have been richer had Janne Tuohino not retired on the very last stage.