February 11, 2007. Savvy tyres choices saw Marcus Gronholm win five of the seven stages to strengthen his grip on the 2007 Rally of Sweden, Round 2 of the 2007 World Rally Championship (WRC).
The works Ford Focus RS 2006 driver said he had had "a perfect day" as he extended his lead over reigning world champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen C4 WRC) to 38 seconds.
"I pushed really hard, but nothing crazy, on the second loop because the Focus felt great," Gronholm said. "It turned-in to the corners superbly. We made good tyre choices (though) in some places the conditions weren't easy. "
With only a light layer of snow on top of the icy gravel roads, the conditions were challenging, with the exposed gravel posing making tyre selection difficult.
Among those affected adversely was Loeb, who struggle to find the right tyre compound. "It was impossible to do any better," he said. "I didn't make any mistakes, I simply could not drive any faster. We may already have lost this rally."
Loeb had won Saturday's first stage, cutting Gronholm's lead to less than 10 seconds, and earning a compliment from the Finn. "He was driving like a man possessed," said Gronholm.
But that was the best it got. Bad tyre choices saw Loeb drop 17 seconds on the next two tests, and to Gronholm extended that another 10 seconds on the next three stages.
"The gap is big enough now in a normal situation but there is still no room for mistakes," Gronholm said at the end of Leg 2. "Just one wrong line will send me into a snow bank and the lead has gone. 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."
That stage was won by 20-year-old Norwegian Mads Ostberg, in a semi-works Subaru Impreza WRC STi.
Gronholm's teammate Mikko Hirvonen ended the day third.
Standings at the end of Leg 2, February 10.
1. Marcus Gronholm-Timo Rautiainen, Ford Focus RS WRC 06, 2h 22m 29.6s.
2. Sebastien Loeb-Daniel Elena, Citroen C4 WRC, 38.4s behind.
3. Mikko Hirvonen-Jarmo Lehtinen, Ford Focus RS WRC 06, 1m 13.4s behind.
4. Henning Solberg-P. Menkerud, Ford Focus RS WRC 06, 1m 40.7s behind.
5. Daniel Carlsson-Denis Giraudet, Citroen Xsara WRC, 2m 46.5s behind.
6. Chris Atkinson-Glenn Macneall, Subaru Impreza WRC 2006, 2m 55.2s behind.
7. Manfred Stohl-Ilkka Minor, Citroen Xsara WRC, 3m 26.7s behind.
8. Toni Gardemeister-J. Honkanen, Mitsubishi Lancer WR05, 3m 28.1s behind.
9. Jari-Matti Latvala-M. Anttila, Ford Focus RS WRC 06 2:26:06.9, 3m 37.3s behind.
10. Mads Ostberg-O. Unnerud, Subaru Impreza WRC STi, 5m 53.3s behind.