Gronholm Powers Dominate Ford Focus to Victory in Sweden
Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen won their fifth Swedish Rally today as BP-Ford World Rally Team closed to within a point of the leaders in the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finns dominated this second round of the 16-event series in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, winning 11 of the 20 snow and ice-bound speed tests. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen claimed their eighth podium in the last 11 rallies by finishing third in another Focus RS.
The 39-year-old Finn led the four-day rally in central Sweden from midway through the first leg. He stamped his authority on the rally with five consecutive special stage victories yesterday and was able to pace himself through today's final leg. Grönholm's 26th career victory took him to equal second in the all-time standings alongside Carlos Sainz.
Drivers tackled 342.09km of stages, the bulk clustered around the small town of Hagfors, 90km north of the rally base in Karlstad. Frozen roads and plenty of snow ensured near-perfect conditions throughout. While the weather was relatively mild for a Scandinavian winter during the first two legs, today's final action was played out in bitterly cold temperatures that plunged to -22°C this morning as drivers prepared for the final five tests covering 86.32km.
Grönholm enjoyed a troublefree rally throughout and won a further three stages today to finish 53.8sec ahead of Sébastien Loeb and climb to second in the drivers' standings. "It was a perfect weekend with no problems for the car or with my driving," he said. "It's my fifth win here and that's an achievement I'm proud of.
"On Saturday morning I had the chance to substantially increase my lead over Seb and I took it. My advantage more than doubled in two stages and after that I had a little bit of breathing space. The only real problem this weekend was the temperature this morning. It was so cold on the first stage that there was ice inside the car on the rear windows and, even with foot warmers, my feet were so cold it was hard to feel the pedals," he added.