Gronholm dominates Acropolis Rally
- 5th June 2006, 11:11am
It was the fifth victory for the Focus in Greece in seven years on a rally that is acknowledged as the toughest in the calendar. It was Grönholm's 21st world rally success and strengthens his grip on second in the drivers' standings while Hirvonen's podium promoted him to fourth. BP-Ford remains second in the manufacturers' championship.
This eighth round of the championship is one of the season's classics. It relocated to Athens after several years further north and the gravel tracks in the hills surrounding the city were in ferocious mood. Massive rocks and intense heat offered punishing conditions for cars, tyres and drivers alike. Success here requires a blend of speed, strength and reliability and Grönholm's BP Ultimate and Castrol-branded Focus RS delivered all three in equal measure.
The 38-year-old Finn established a firm grip during the opening leg of the 1279.29km event when he won all six gravel speed tests. He extended his advantage in the second leg and had a sufficient lead to be able to drive cautiously during the final day. He finished in style, setting fastest time on the last of the 18 speed tests in the Olympic Stadium, his 11th stage victory. His winning margin was 2min 26.8sec.
"It's great to experience the winning feeling again," said Grönholm. "We have been on the pace all year but had some bad luck, but now we are back on the top step of the podium. It's satisfying to win such a tough rally. The Focus was strong and fast all the way through and that was down to the hard work during our test. It was terribly rough and I could never drive with total confidence because I knew how easy it was to damage the car on the rocks.
"BFGoodrich's tyres were strong on such a demanding rally and when we had a puncture the mousse worked perfectly. I could not believe that the tyres withstood the impact from some rocks. The Focus has huge potential and I hope we can show that more over the next few rallies. I think we can push for victory everywhere during the second half of the season," he added.
Hirvonen established himself in fourth on the opening morning and climbed to third yesterday. With no pressure from his rivals, he cruised through the final leg. The 25-year-old Finn survived a scare when a broken centre differential meant he had to tackle the final test in second gear.
"That's two podiums in a row and that is where I should be," said Hirvonen. "I hope my first win is not too far away. I saw on Friday that I could not match Marcus' pace so I just watched the split times in the stages and drove accordingly. I avoided problems all weekend and the team has done a fantastic job. It was really difficult today because it was too rough and not nice to drive as I was just trying to avoid the rocks. I'm really confident now for the rest of the season. My car is reliable and strong and I hope we can deliver more podiums."
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson dedicated the victory to Edouard Michelin, who died tragically in a boating accident last month. "It was one of the toughest rallies I can remember. Full credit goes to Christian Loriaux (technical director) and his team. Since the last round in Sardinia a tremendous amount of work has gone on behind the scenes and the guys in the factory have worked day and night to contribute to this success. It's a great way to end the first half of the season."
Jost Capito, director of Ford TeamRS, said: "The Greek Gods looked after us this weekend. It was impressive how both crews kept their cool to firstly establish their positions and then maintain them. To achieve three victories in the first half of the season with a new car in its development phase is more than anyone could expect."
News from our Rivals
Sébastien Loeb's (Citroen) mechanics did a superb job to rebuild the wrecked rear of his car without penalty last night and he drove safely through the final day to take second. Behind Hirvonen, Toni Gardemeister (Citroen) emerged from a four-way fight to comfortably claim fourth while Henning Solberg (Peugeot) just edged out Dani Sordo for fifth. Sordo dropped a minute on the opening stage when faulty spark plugs gave him engine troubles but recovered to finish just 0.8sec behind the Norwegian. Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) was the day's main retirement when the Austrian rolled on the opening stage.
With eight of the 16 rounds completed, the championship breaks for the summer. The action begins again with the all-asphalt Rallye Deutschland which is based in Trier on 10 - 13 August.
1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 56min 26.8sec
2. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 3hr 58min 53.6sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 4hr 00min 10.6sec
4. T Gardemeister/J Honkanen FIN Citroen Xsara 4hr 00min 47.6sec
5. H Solberg/C Menkerud N Peugeot 307 4hr 01min 22.4sec
6. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 4hr 01min 23.2sec
7. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 4hr 02min 01.2sec
8. X Pons/C Del Barrio E Citroen Xsara 4hr 04min 45.8sec
9. J Välimäki/J Kalliolepo FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 4hr 07min 55.5sec
10 M Wilson/M Orr GB Ford Focus RS 4hr 09min 57.6sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 8 of 16)
1. S Loeb 74pts
2. M Grönholm 45pts
3. D Sordo 33pts
4. M Hirvonen 21pts
5= P Solberg 20pts
5= M Stohl 20pts
1. Kronos Citroen 96pts
2. BP-Ford 81pts
3. Subaru 63pts
4. OMV - Peugeot Norway 41pts
5. Stobart VK M-Sport Ford 17pts
6. Red-Bull Skoda 14pts
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