Gronholm Extends Lead in Finland

Marcus Gronholm went on the attack at the start of the second leg of the Rally Finland, stretching his lead by the end of stage twelve

Gronholm Extends Lead in Finland

Gronholm, who won the event last year, extended his gap over WRC Championship leader Sebastien Loeb by nine seconds on the first three stages of Leg Two. He now has a 14.8 second advantage over Loeb as he fights for his first victory of the year.

However, Citroen driver Loeb had started the day well, winning the day's first stage and closing to within 2.3 seconds of Gronholm. But the Peugeot driver fought back to win the next two tests and Loeb will have to up his pace if he is to extend his record-breaking run of six consecutive World Rally Championship victories.

The overall victory of the event seems destined to go to either of these two, with both extending their advantage over Peugeot's Markko Martin.

Martin is nearly 50 seconds behind teammate Gronholm and remains locked in a battle with Ford's Toni Gardemeister and Subaru's Petter Solberg for the final podium position, with just over sixteen seconds separating the trio.

Solberg, who had been in contention for the lead yesterday before an accident-strewn SS8 dropped him down the order, had been expected to make the position his own today. However, he dropped a further 20 seconds from the lead on SS10 and complained of oversteering problems on his Impreza.

Ford factory driver Miko Hirvonen has made the most of Solberg's problems to close within 14 seconds of the Norwegian in sixth.

Harri Rovanpera remains seventh, but his life has been made easier by Francois Duval having problems in his Citroen. The Frenchman lost time when he overshot a junction on SS10 and is now nearly a minute adrift of the Mitsubishi driver.

The same stage caught out other drivers. Citroen privateer Manfred Stohl retired on the stage with suspension damage when his Xsara landed awkwardly and went off the road after a jump. Kristian Sohlberg was another privateer in trouble when the Finn's Impreza WRC ended up on its roof after an accident 1km from the finish line.

Mitsubishi's Gigi Galli briefly impressed, after recording the second fastest time in SS11, despite a retirement yesterday in SS2. Galli drove the 14.13 km run through Ouninpohja Lansi on SS11 only two seconds off the pace of stage winner Gronholm. However, in SS12 Galli hit a tree and retired from the event.

Top 20 leaderboard after SS12:

Pos  Driver        Make          Time
 1.  Gronholm      Peugeot       1h 36:20.5
 2.  Loeb          Citroen       +     14.8
 3.  Martin        Peugeot       +   1:04.6
 4.  Gardemeister  Ford          +   1:13.2
 5.  Solberg       Subaru        +   1:21.0
 6.  Hirvonen      Ford          +   1:34.2
 7.  Rovanpera     Mitsubishi    +   2:23.5
 8.  Duval         Citroen       +   3:22.4
 9.  Tuohino       Skoda         +   3:52.8
10.  Solberg       Ford          +   4:27.5
11.  Schwarz       Skoda         +   6:01.7
12.  Pons          Citroen       +   6:54.7
13.  Flodin        Mitsubishi    +  12:08.1
14.  Kuistila      Mitsubishi    +  12:12.6
15.  Teiskonen     Subaru        +  12:26.5
16.  Alen          Mitsubishi    +  12:29.7
17.  Sordo         Citroen       +  14:10.0
18.  Aava          Suzuki        +  14:36.1
19.  Kinnunen      Mitsubishi    +  15:18.2
20.  Warmbold      Ford          +  15:34.2
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