Day 3 am: Solberg set to win

Petter Solberg now holds a commanding lead on the final morning of the Swedish Rally after his event-long rival Marcus Gronholm crashed out on the Rammen stage. Sebastien Loeb is up to second despite continuing engine problems

Day 3 am: Solberg set to win

Gronholm had admitted that Solberg would be difficult to beat on leg three after the Norweigan built up a 12.6s advantage on Saturday's final two stages. Pushing hard to catch the leader, Gronholm reportedly rolled his Peugeot on SS16 and lost a wheel, retiring on the spot.

With Sebastien Loeb cruising gently through the stages in a bid to preserve his Citroen Xsara's failing engine, Solberg now has a lead of just over a minute and plans to take it very easy on the remaining three stages.

"Now I can just back off completely," he said. "No point doing anything stupid or pushing. I am driving like my mother now."

Markko Martin now looks set for a podium finish thanks to his Peugeot team-mate Gronholm's late exit. The Estonian was fastest on the Malta stage but insisted he was driving conservatively to the finish, with Loeb too far ahead to be caught even with his engine problems.

"I'm making sure we stay on the road and have no surprises," said Martin. "There's nothing to push for anymore, it's just important to keep our position.

"It's a bit disappointing he (Gronholm) retired, he was in a good position so we lost a lot of points. For me it's been very difficult. I can drive the speed to a certain speed and then beyond that I'm not comfortable, I don't know what's going to happen next.

"Now the car is quite okay, but there are things we need to change that we can't change here."

The main interest left in the rally is in the battle for what is now fourth place, with Ford's Toni Gardemeister only 7s ahead of Harri Rovanpera, with Henning Solberg a further 7s back. Rovanpera, in particular, has made progress this morning as he begins to feel more at home in the Mitsubishi Lancer. He was third fastest on Lesjofers and fourth quickest on Malta. The Ford duo are slightly less happy, Gardemeister still feeling his times should be quicker while Solberg admitted his performance on the day's opening stage was poor.

Bozian Peugeot 307 driver Daniel Carlsson has moved up to seventh, but Gigi Galli, Chris Atkinson and Janne Tuohino are all close behind in another good battle for the final points. No-one in this gaggle is planning to back off on the deciding loop of stages.

"I'm happy to be here," said Carlsson after SS17. "I'm going to push on the last three stages."

Galli was less content after losing time with an error on Lesjofers.

"This morning has not gone well," he said. "We started very slowly and carefully and did a mistake on the first stage. We absolutely have to score points."

Some snow has fallen today, causing problems for those running first on the road - particularly Citroen's Francois Duval, who has struggled for speed all morning. Ford driver Anthony Warmbold, running immediately after Duval, explained the problem.

"It's very slippery," he said. "There's a hell of a lot of snow. It's 3cm deep but the spike (in the tyre) is not touching the ground."

After a quick service halt the competitors will repeat this morning's stages before heading for the finish. If the positions remain the same then Loeb will lead the championship by five points from Gardemeister.



Petter Solberg (Subaru Impreza) 2h37m46.1s
Sebastien Loeb (Citroen Xsara) 2h38m46.6s
Markko Martin (Peugeot 307) 2h39m50.4s
Toni Gardemeister (Ford Focus) 2h41m04.6s
Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi Lancer) 2h41m12.1s
Henning Solberg (Ford Focus) 2h41m19.3s
Daniel Carlsson (Peugeot 307) 2h41m39.7s
Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi Lancer) 2h41m52.6s
Chris Atkinson (Subaru Impreza) 2h41m53.0s
Janne Tuohino (Skoda Fabia) 2h42m00.9s



Roman Kresta (Ford Focus) 2h42m30.7s
Jani Paasonen (Skoda Fabia) 2h42m46.3s
Anthony Warmbold (Ford Focus) 2h44m35.6s
Mattias Ekstrom (Skoda Fabia) 2h44m51.9s
Francois Duval (Citroen Xsara) 2h44m57.7s
Stephane Sarrazin (Subaru Impreza) 2h45m17.4s

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