Marcus Gronholm wins in the land of ice and snow.
February 12, 2007. For Marcus Gronholm the weekend on the icy and snow roads of Sweden was "perfect...with no problems for the car or with my driving." The Ford Focus RS WRC driver and double world champion scored his fifth victory in Rally Sweden, traditionally the second round of the World Rally Championship (WRC), an achievement he says he's proud of.
Only Swedish Rally superstar Stig Blomqvist has won the event more times - seven between 1971 and 1984.
Gronholm took control of the rally from Special Stage 2, and ended Friday with a slim margin over reigning world champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen C4 WRC).
But the key to his victory came on Saturday, with some inspired and canny tyre choices. Initially Loeb was quicker but wrong tyre choices for the icy gravel which had only a thin coating of snow saw him struggling for grip.
Gronholm ended Saturday's with a 38.4-second lead, enough to allow him to drive conservatively on Sunday to ensure the victory.
"On Saturday morning I had the chance to substantially increase my lead over Loeb and I took it," he said. "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 (on Sunday) 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."
Even driving to finish, Gronholm won three of the final five stages, and stretch the final winning margin over Loeb to 53.8 seconds.
Loeb said he felt that the tyre miss-call on Saturday lost him the rally.
"I think the outcome was decided by my poor tyre choice on Saturday. It was totally my fault. Since the start, I had been running slightly longer studs than Marcus and it had worked. So I continued with the same choice for SS11 and 12 but this time there was really too much ice for the longer option and I could feel my studs moving in the tread blocks making the car unstable."
Gronholm's teammate Mikko Hirvonen finished, 38 seconds behind Loeb. As a result, Ford is now only one point behind Citroen in the manufacturers' championship. Hirvonen is third behind Loeb and Gronholm in the drivers' series.
Henning Solberg, in a Stobart M-Sport-entered Ford Focus, finished fourth.
"I took this rally slowly, step by step with no big push and I am happy with the result," Solberg said at the finish. "I love this car and it's a great team, I think I am at my best now."
Swede Daniel Carlsson in an OMV Kronos Citroen Xsara finished fifth after getting the better of an intense final day battle with Australian Chris Atkinson (works Subaru Impreza WRC 2006).
Atkinson had edged ahead of Carlsson in the first three Sunday stages, winning SS16 and then spinning into a ditch on SS18, losing nearly a minute in an incident he described as "one of those unfortunate things (He eventually finished eighth)."
Carlsson then came under pressure from Toni Gardemeister in a privateer, ex-workd 2005-spec Mitsubishi Lancer WR05. The Finn took five seconds off Carlsson in SS18, 15 on the next, but finished 16 seconds short of fifth place after a valiant drive.
Results of the Rally of Sweden, February 8-11.
1. Marcus Gronholm-Timo Rautiainen, Ford Focus RS WRC 06, 3h 08m 40.7s.
2. Sebastien Loeb-Daniel Elena, Citroen C4 WRC, 53.8s behind.
3. Mikko Hirvonen-Jarmo Lehtinen Ford Focus RS WRC 06, 1m 41.5s behind.
4. Henning Solberg-C. Menkerud. Ford Focus RS WRC 06, 2m 09.8s behind.
5. Daniel Carlsson-Denis Giraudet, Citroen Xsara WRC, 3m 37.8s behind.
6. Toni Gardemeister-J. Honkanen, Mitsubishi Lancer WR05, 3m 54.2s behind.
7. Manfred Stohl-Ilkka Minor, Citroen Xsara WRC, 5m 12.5s behind
8. Chris Atkinson-Glenn Macneall, Subaru Impreza WRC 2006, 6m 14.7s behind.
9. Mads Ostberg-O. Unnerud, Subaru Impreza WRC STi, 7m 47.0s behind.
10. Jan Kopecky-F. Schovanek, Skoda Fabia WRC, 7m 52.5s behind.