Gronholm in Control in Finland

Marcus Gronholm took control of the Rally Finland after winning all three of Leg Two's second loop of stages

Gronholm in Control in Finland

The Finn has won five out of six stages so far today and holds a commanding 23.7-second lead over WRC Championship leader Sebastien Loeb at the end of SS15.

Loeb has seemingly settled for second place after starting the leg 5.8 seconds adrift. He was runner-up to Gronholm on SS14 and SS15, but could only manage a fifth place finish on SS13. However, Loeb is keeping enough pressure on the Peugeot driver to be in contention should Gronholm make a mistake.

Loeb still maintains a comfortable gap over Gronholm's teammate Markko Martin, who continues to have one of his best rallies of the season. Martin, who had won the event in 2003 in a Ford Focus, has stretched his advantage over current factory Ford driver Toni Gardemesiter to 19 seconds.

Petter Solberg is continuing to struggle in fifth place. After being in contention for the lead yesterday before an accident-strewn SS8 dropped him down the order, he had been expected to challenge for third today.

However, Solberg dropped a further 20 seconds from the lead on SS10 and complained of oversteering problems on his Impreza, then dropping 19 seconds further on SS14 when one of his car's rear brake lines split midway through the stage.

Ford's Miko Hirvonen has made the most of Solberg's problems and is now within 4.1 seconds of the Norwegian. Hirvonen's pace has vindicated the decision of Ford bosses to nominate the Finn ahead of Roman Kresta as the team's second manufacturer points scorer.

Kresta had a disastrous time on both runnings of the 16.55km stage Ouninpohja Ita. On its first running, SS12, he lost nine minutes when his car slid off the road and into a ditch. Spectators eventually helped the car back onto the stage.

On its second running, in SS15, a hydraulic fault with his Focus meant that kresta drove much of the stage without power steering and had to use the back-up manual gear change. He now lies in 34th position.

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 more than 70 seconds 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 leg.

Top 20 leaderboard after SS15:

Pos Driver Make Time 1. Gronholm Peugeot 1h 55:14.3 2. Loeb Citroen + 23.7 3. Martin Peugeot + 1:17.1 4. Gardemeister Ford + 1:36.1 5. Solberg Subaru + 1:55.9 6. Hirvonen Ford + 2:00.0 7. Rovanpera Mitsubishi + 2:52.9 8. Duval Citroen + 4:05.5 9. Tuohino Skoda + 4:46.9 10. Solberg Ford + 5:02.5 11. Schwarz Skoda + 7:10.7 12. Pons Citroen + 8:04.5 13. Flodin Mitsubishi + 14:35.1 14. Teiskonen Subaru + 14:36.6 15. Kuistila Mitsubishi + 14:39.9 16. Warmbold Ford + 16:19.2 17. Sordo Citroen + 16:50.3 18. Aava Suzuki + 17:10.7 19. Kinnunen Mitsubishi + 18:20.1 20. Zachrisson Suzuki + 19:53.4 
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Gronholm Extends Lead in Finland
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