Six of the best for Gronholm
- 14th August 2006, 8:40am
Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished ninth in a similar BP Ultimate and Castrol-branded Focus RS, after a last-gasp drama when the Finns stopped with a broken alternator on the liaison section to the finish in Trier after the final stage. Hirvonen would have finished fifth but the five minute penalty incurred for being helped to the finish cost four driver points. However, the double-points finish strengthened BP-Ford's grip on second in the manufacturers' series.
Today's final leg comprised just four speed tests covering 68.19km over narrow roads in the Saarland region of south-west Germany. Although it was overcast throughout, there were only a few drops of rain and BF Goodrich's soft compound slick tyres provided the safe choice for Grönholm and Hirvonen in the uncertain conditions.
Grönholm restarted third this morning after two special stage victories yesterday. The 38-year-old Finn had no chance to catch second-placed Dani Sordo and concentrated on keeping ahead of Toni Gardemeister. The team fed Gardemeister's split times into the Focus RS during the stages and Grönholm matched his pace accordingly to finish 14.6sec ahead of his fellow countryman.
"A podium is a good, solid finish and after a difficult rally I have to be happy with that," he said. "But I had hoped to be fighting with the Citroen of Sébastien Loeb for victory rather than the similar car of Gardemeister for third. But I wasn't happy in the rain on Friday and so there was no chance of that. I was a little bit slow on the first stage this morning but then I found my pace and it was just a question of keeping an eye on Toni's stage times.
"In the dry the Focus RS was fantastic. But we have not been able to test on wet asphalt and that was why I struggled and lost confidence on Friday. Now we have a long, long time to improve everything on wet asphalt. The next rally on that surface is at the start of next season in January so I really hope we can find some rain by then!" he added.
Hirvonen's heartbreak came after a steady drive through the final leg to maintain his overnight fifth. His car stopped en route to the finish and although he restarted, it stopped again on the motorway just a few kilometres further on, leaving the dejected Finns to reflect on what might have been.
"I started to have battery problems on the stages because the alternator wasn't charging any more," he said. "Then the car stopped and there was no power in the battery to get moving. After everything that has happened this weekend, I just can't believe this. I've lost driver points and a manufacturer point and that's a big shame. My Saturday performance was very good but on Friday I was off the pace in the wet weather. It has been a tough weekend and now my thoughts are focused on my home rally next weekend where I hope my luck will be better." Hirvonen now lies fifth in the drivers' standings.
BP-Ford team director Malcolm Wilson said: "I'm pleased that we came away from here with a podium finish and after our difficulties in the rain on the first day we achieved as much as we could. Our performance on dry asphalt was excellent and that's a reflection of the hard work during testing in the hot weather but clearly we need a wet weather test to perfect the set-up in those conditions."
Ford TeamRS director Jost Capito added: "The Ford Focus road car is built in Saarlouis, close to the rally area. It would have been great to have given the employees there a victory to celebrate but under the circumstances we have to be happy to deliver a podium."
News from our Rivals
Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) claimed his sixth victory of the year, leading home team-mate Dani Sordo by 33.8sec. The Frenchman became the first driver to win a full championship event for five consecutive seasons and moved level with Carlos Sainz at the top of the WRC win list with 26 victories. Toni Gardemeister (Citroen) launched a determined challenge to catch Grönholm, winning three stages, but the Ford driver controlled his pace to maintain third. Austria's Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) took fifth while Andreas Aigner (Skoda) claimed his first ever driver points in sixth, despite going off 3km before the end of the last stage.
In just four days' time, after a rapid dash across Europe for the team, round 10 of the championship begins in Finland. The smooth gravel roads of Rally Finland (17 - 20 August) offer the fastest action of the year on what is regarded as the classic event of the championship season.
1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 3hr 28min 34.1sec
2. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 3hr 29min 07.9sec
3. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 30min 53.3sec
4. T Gardemeister/J Honkanen FIN Citroen Xsara 3hr 31min 07.9sec
5. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 3hr 33min 00.0sec
6. A Aigner/K Wicha A Skoda Fabia 3hr 34min 16.7sec
7. J Kopecky/F Schovanek CZ Skoda Fabia 3hr 34min 19.9sec
8. C Atkinson/G MacNeall AUS Subaru Impreza 3hr 35min 59.1sec
9. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 36min 59.8sec
10 G MacHale/G Nagle & nbsp; IRL Ford Focus RS 3hr 41min 30.2sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 9 of 16)
1. S Loeb 84pts
2. M Grönholm 51pts
3. D Sordo 41pts
4. M Stohl 24pts
5. M Hirvonen 21pts
6. P Solberg 20pts
1. Kronos Citroen 114pts
2. BP-Ford 91pts
3. Subaru 63pts
4. OMV - Peugeot Norway 41pts
5. Red-Bull Skoda 22pts
6. Stobart VK M-Sport Ford 20pts
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