Australia: Gronholm leads Pug one-two

Marcus Gronholm rounded off Rally Australia with a flourish, setting fastest time on the final stage to confirm his fifth win of the year. The World Champion elect needs just one more victory to equal the record of wins in one season set by Didier Auriol in 1992, a record marred only by the fact that bizarrely Auriol didn't manage to secure the title

Australia: Gronholm leads Pug one-two

Gronholm's domination of the season lacks only an asphalt victory but he must wait another year to correct that omission from his CV as the final event of 2002 is Rally GB, held in the mud of south Wales two weeks hence.

The Gronholm/Rovanpera double act also brought Peugeot its ninth maximum points score and the French team could now easily end the year with as many points as all of its rivals put together.

The Finn grabbed the lead on the third stage of the rally and has not been headed since. Petter Solberg briefly offered a challenge but today lost the plot with his tyre choices and was unable to maintain his charge. Indeed he also lost second place as Gronholm's fellow Finn and team mate, Harri Rovanpera, stormed past thanks to winning three of the four stages.

However, once again Rally Australia ended in controversy when Tommi Makinen's Subaru failed a weight check today, despite five attempts to ensure that it had been carried out correctly. Solberg's team mate ended the final stage in fourth place but was excluded once it was confirmed that his car had been found to be eight kilos underweight.

Carlos Sainz and Markko Martin took fourth and fifth points places for Ford after Belgian hot shoe Francois Duval crashed out of the event today but, following Makinen's exclusion the final place in the points went to Finland's Toni Gardemeister. It was a vital result for Skoda as the one point gained brought the Czech team level with Hyundai and Mitsubishi, neither of whom scored in Australia after Juha Kankkunen retired with no oil pressure in his Accent engine.

Malaysian driver Karamjit Singh became the Production Car World Champion this weekend, taking a sensibly cautious approach with his Proton to become the first Malaysian World Champion in the history of the sport. 'I am absolutely over the moon,' said an elated Singh. 'It's a truly fantastic result for us and an absolutely amazing feeling. I knew yesterday when Kristian [Sohlberg] went out that it was within our reach and we just had to keep going. I was really nervous today but all I had to do was keep Ramon [Ferreyros] behind me. I'm the first Asian driver to win the championship and that makes me very proud.'

The Australian event was a disaster for both Richard Burns and Colin McRae. Burns was sidelined on day one when his Peugeot suffered clutch failure and McRae had to withdraw yesterday after a violent landing after a big jump smashed the Ford's radiator and dumped all the water out in one go.

Other non-finishers in Oz included Mitsubishi's Francois Delecour following a huge accident that left his Lancer scattered across the stage like the aftermath of an airplane accident and co-driver Daniel Grataloup hospitalised with multiple fractures. Delecour, although limping, expects to be fit in time to tackle Rally GB but he will definitely have a new co-driver for the occasion.

The rally aces now travel half way round the globe to Cardiff for the final championship event where conditions will be a far cry from the sunshine of Australia's early summer. McRae and Burns will be eager to end the season with a home win but, on his current form and with a steely determination not to let Burns get the better of him, Gronholm will again be the man to beat.

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