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Back-to-back victory for Gronholm

 

Ford World Rally Team driver Marcus Gronholm and co-driver Timo Rautiainen won the final round of the 2006 WRC to take successive victories.

It was also a special moment for the team by claiming its first Rally GB victory in 27 years - and left the driver pair one point behind 2006 driver champion Sebastien Loeb.

Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen led the three-day event from start to finish through the muddy forests of south Wales to triumph by 1min 35.5sec in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. It was the seventh victory of the season for the Finnish duo, and the eighth for the BP-Ford World Rally Team - making it Ford's most successful rally season ever.

It also ensured Grönholm became the most successful Finn ever in the WRC. His 25th win moved him ahead of Tommi Mäkinen and into equal third in the all-time standings. Victory also means that BP-Ford, crowned manufacturers' world champions on the previous round in New Zealand last month, set a new points record under the current scoring system. The Blue Oval's previous Rally GB success was in 1979, the same season in which it last claimed the world title.

The rain-soaked gravel roads provided a stern challenge for the world's best drivers on this 16th and final round of the season. The muddy tracks proved too much for many of the 111 starters, the largest entry of the season, who tackled 355.92km of competition. Today's final leg took competitors north-west of the rally base in Cardiff to the Brechfa Forest complex. Always technically demanding and slippery, heavy overnight rain made conditions treacherous in the four speed tests, covering 112.00km.

Grönholm built up a 1min 18.8sec lead during the opening two days and the 38-year-old could afford to take no risks in the mud and rain today. He eased through the final special stages to return to the finish inside Cardiff's Millennium Stadium having extended his advantage to 1min 35.5sec. However, even he was caught out by the conditions and dropped a handful of seconds on the second stage when he spun. "I entered a downhill hairpin a little too quickly and spun the car. I had to reverse back onto the road and dropped a few seconds, but it wasn't such a big drama," he said.

"It's fantastic to win again and this ends a great season in perfect style. It has been a long three days in the Welsh forests but we were able to drive cautiously today on what were the most difficult stages of the event. It was made easier for me yesterday when Petter Solberg had problems and since then I have had the rally under control.

"In terms of rally wins, this is my best season and I'm delighted to deliver this win for the team. I can't believe I have moved ahead of Tommi to become the most successful Finn ever. That is an achievement I could never have dreamed of when I started in the sport," he added.

Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) claimed his best result of the season in second, holding off the challenge of Petter Solberg (Subaru). The Norwegian dropped20 seconds after puncturing and spinning on the second stage this morning. Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford) claimed a career best result in fourth ahead of Xevi Pons (Citroen), who spun in the same stage as Solberg. Chris Atkinson (Subaru) rounded off the top six.

Final positions - 2006 Rally GB

1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 20min 24.8sec

2. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 3hr 22min 00.3sec

3. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 3hr 22min 20.0sec

4. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS 3hr 23min 01.9sec

5. X Pons/C Del Barrio E Citroen Xsara 3hr 23min 44.7sec

6. C Atkinson/G MacNeall AUS Subaru Impreza 3hr 23min 52.3sec

7. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 3hr 24min 33.1sec

8. F Duval/ P Pivato B Skoda Fabia 3hr 24min 47.4sec

9. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Skoda Fabia 3hr 28min 25.1sec

10 J Kopecky/F Schovanek CZ Skoda Fabia 3hr 28min 52.6sec

2006 Drivers Championship

1. S Loeb 112pts

2. M Grönholm 111pts

3. M Hirvonen 65pts

4. M Stohl 54pts

5. D Sordo 49pts

6. P Solberg 40pts

2006 Manufacturers Championship

1. BP-Ford 195pts

2. Kronos Citroen 166pts

3. Subaru 106pts

4. OMV - Peugeot Norway 88pts

5. Stobart VK M-Sport Ford 44pts

6. Red-Bull Skoda 24pts



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