Gronholm extends Swedish lead
- 11th February 2007, 8:19am
Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen dominated today's second leg of the Swedish Rally to build a comfortable lead in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. The BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers won five of the seven snow and ice-bound speed tests to extend their first leg advantage over Sébastien Loeb from 11.1sec to 38.4sec, with just one day of this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship remaining.
Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen also enjoyed a successful day in their similar Focus RS. The Finns climbed from fifth to third and eased away from closest rival Henning Solberg to return to the rally base in Karlstad for the final overnight halt with a 27.3sec advantage over the Norwegian.
After a very early start from Karlstad, today's action was again based near the Hagfors service park. Drivers faced three loops of special stages covering 141.96km, two east of the city and the middle section on tests to the west already used yesterday. A light dusting of overnight snow did little to change the condition of the forest roads. While the repeated stages had gravel breaking through the icy surface, those tests used for the first time were in better condition with a frozen base.
Overnight leader Grönholm traded tenths of a second with Loeb during the first loop. However, the 39-year-old Finn powered clear of the Frenchman during the second loop when two stage wins increased his advantage to 27.6sec. Two more wins during the afternoon stretched his lead even further, and took his tally of stage wins to eight from 15 tests.
"It was a perfect day," he said. "We made good tyre choices because in some places the conditions weren't easy. I lost a couple of seconds on the short final stage when I stalled the engine in a corner but that was the only thing that went wrong. Tomorrow's plan is simple – to make no mistakes and to try to stay in front.
"I pushed really hard, but nothing crazy, on the second loop because the Focus felt great and it turned in to the corners superbly," said Grönholm. "There was lots of gravel and that wasn't so easy for the tyres. The gap is big enough now in a normal situation but there is still no room for mistakes. Just one wrong line will send me into a snowbank and the lead has gone. I want to be able to control everything, but to do that I need a bigger lead," he added.
BP-Ford colleague Hirvonen was engrossed in an exciting battle with Solberg and Toni Gardemeister. He climbed to fourth early this morning and then claimed third on the second loop of stages, pulling clear of both drivers as Solberg spun and Gardemeister hit mechanical troubles.
"Today was really enjoyable with fantastic road conditions," said Hirvonen. "The car felt perfect so it is up to me now. I had a good battle with Henning and Toni and when I knew that Henning had a problem on the penultimate stage, I slowed a little because I didn't want to do anything stupid. This morning I couldn't have driven much harder. I was at a good speed but I didn't want to take risks. I need to concentrate 100 per cent tomorrow so as not to make any mistakes.
"Marcus and Seb are too far ahead for me to catch unless they make a mistake, so all I can do is fight to maintain my position. It's my fifth time on this rally and I really would like a podium finish," added Hirvonen.
News from our Rivals
Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) rued a poor tyre choice for the middle group of stages and the Frenchman admitted he had given up hope of catching Grönholm and would be happy to settle for second. Behind Hirvonen, Henning Solberg (Ford) lost almost 20sec when he was blinded by sunshine and spun on the penultimate stage. Toni Gardemeister (Mitsubishi) held fifth until driveshaft problems on the penultimate stage cost almost two minutes and he slipped to eighth. Daniel Carlsson (Mitsubishi) and Chris Atkinson (Subaru) completed the top six, the Australian moving ahead of Manfred Stohl (Citroen) this morning when the Austrian suffered brake problems. Petter Solberg (Subaru) lost third when the Norwegian drove into a ditch on the second stage and it took spectators almost 14 minutes to lift the car back onto the road. He continued for two more stages but then retired to preserve his car for next week's Rally Norway.
The final day is the shortest of the event, covering 86.32km of competition. After leaving Karlstad at 06.30, drivers tackle two loops of two identical stages close to the Hagfors service park. They then return to the rally base for a repeat of the spectacular super special stage which began the event on Thursday evening at the city's horse trotting track. Two drivers at a time will race head-to-head around the sweeping bends before the rally finish in the arena.
Top 10 leaderboard after Leg 2:
Pos Driver Make Time
1. Gronholm Ford 2:22:29.6
2. Loeb Citroen + 38.4
3. Hirvonen Ford + 1:13.4
4. H. Solberg Ford + 1:40.7
5. Carlsson Citroen + 2:46.5
6. Atkinson Subaru + 2:55.2
7. Stohl Citroen + 3:26.7
8. Gardemeister Mitsubishi + 3:28.1
9. Latvala Ford + 3:37.3
10. Ostberg Subaru + 5:53.3
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