Gronholm secures New Zealand win

Marcus Gronholm has completed his domination of the Rally New Zealand by clinching victory and securing the WRC manufacturers' title for Ford in the process

Gronholm secures New Zealand win

With Gronholm's teammate Mikko Hirvonen taking a dutiful second, 56 seconds behind, the team enjoyed a perfect weekend, having run one-two for the entire duration of the event.

This has not been a vintage season for the World Rally Championship, and New Zealand was perhaps the most uneventful round yet. Gronholm, Hirvonen and Manfred Stohl held the top three positions after SS1, and were still there when the event ended three days and 17 stages later.

But the battle for third place did provide some excitement. At first it was Dani Sordo who challenged Stohl, and the Spaniard briefly moved into third with a charging drive on Friday afternoon - helped by Stohl spinning in SS4 and then choosing the wrong tyres for the first part of leg two.

However, once Stohl was able to fit more appropriate tyres, he quickly regained third and held the position to the end.

"Yesterday I was really pissed off because it was not working for me many times this year with tyre choice," Stohl admitted.

"But maybe that was the extra (encouragement) I needed to fight back."

Sordo faded in the second half of the event, and an incorrect tyre choice for this afternoon's partially wet final loop meant that he ultimately lost fourth place to his revitalised teammate Xevi Pons.

Had he not spun in SS14, Pons may have beaten Stohl to the podium spot. The Spaniard had set several top three stage times during the rally, only to lose ground with errors. Pons shared the SS16 stage win with Gronholm, and was then fastest of all in final run through Whaanga Coast, but he couldn't close the 28-second gap to Stohl.

"I was pushing very hard today," said Pons. "I'm very happy for the team and for me, because this has been a difficult year but this rally was very good for me."

Petter Solberg's remote sixth place was a microcosm of his disappointing 2006 season, as a mixture of minor mechanical problems, errant tyre choices and handling issues left him unable to fight with the leaders.

"I'm doing everything I can - everybody in the team is doing everything they can," said Solberg. "I'm not blaming the tyres or the car, it's a combination of many, many things. It's been the same for a long, long time, but it's difficult to do something (about it)."

Luis Perez Companc took his first points finish in seventh, while attrition amongst the rest of the small WRC field meant that Production class winner Jari Matti Latvala ended up eighth overall.

Nasser Al-Attiyah clinched the class title despite retiring with engine problems this morning. He faced a nervous wait as championship rival Fumio Nutahara moved back up the order having rejoined under SupeRally following a leg two crash, but didn't make it high enough to overhaul Al-Attiyah.

MotoGP ace Valentino Rossi eventually finished 11th, having got quicker and quicker throughout the event - and enjoyed every second of it. A few small spins apart, he drove a flawless rally. Seventh fastest time in Saturday's superspecial, quicker than the factory Subarus, was perhaps the highlight of Rossi's performance.

Leading results

Pos  Driver         Make              Time
 1.  Gronholm       Ford        4h 02:30.7
 2.  Hirvonen       Ford            + 56.0
 3.  Stohl          Peugeot       + 2:39.3
 4.  Pons           Citroen       + 2:56.1
 5.  Sordo          Citroen       + 3:20.7
 6.  P Solberg      Subaru        + 4:57.1
 7.  Perez Companc  Ford         + 10:51.6
 8.  Latvala        Subaru       + 16:22.4
 9.  Hanninen       Mitsubishi   + 17:30.2
10.  Mason          Subaru       + 20:20.0

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Gronholm closes on NZ victory
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