Markus Gronholm wins home rally
TBP-Ford’s new Focus RS World Rally Car scored a one-two finish on its debut in Finland today as the team stretched its lead in the FIA World Rally Championship to 40 points. In winning Rally Finland for the seventh time in eight years, Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen entered the record books as the first drivers to win a full WRC event on seven occasions. Team-mates and fellow Finns Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen delighted the huge home crowds by taking second.
The new Focus RS dominated this ninth round of the championship to such an extent that it won 20 of the 23 speed tests through the blisteringly fast Finnish forests. Grönholm won 16 stages, Hirvonen three and the pair shared fastest time on one test. This was Grönholm’s 29th world rally victory and his third in a row and he has extended his lead in the drivers’ championship to 13 points with seven rallies remaining. Maximum points enabled BP-Ford World Rally Team to increase its lead in the manufacturers’ standings by another 12 points.
Rally Finland is the fastest event in the series. The smooth, flowing roller-coaster roads demanded precision and bravery in equal measure and average speeds topped 132kph. Drivers tackled 23 special stages covering 360.34km near Jyväskylä. The BP-Ford drivers fought tooth and nail for every tenth of a second during the opening leg but 39-year-old Grönholm edged clear during yesterday’s marathon second leg and came home 24.2sec ahead of his 27-year-old colleague.
With large times between drivers, there was no significant movement on the leaderboard. Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) completed the podium while Xevi Pons (Subaru) rounded off the top six on his debut for the team. Urmo Aava (Mitsubishi) and Mads Östberg (Subaru) scored their first drivers’ points in seventh and eighth while Luis Perez Companc and Federico Villagra (both Ford) claimed a double points haul for the Munchi’s Ford team. Jan Kopecky (Skoda) was an early retirement when he crashed out of 10th on the first stage while Andreas Mikkelsen (Ford) also crashed on the final test.
The championship returns to asphalt later this month for the first time since Rallye Monte Carlo in January. Germany’s oldest city of Trier hosts Rallye Deutschland on 16 - 19 August.