Gronholm takes Rally Italia win

Marcus Gronholm has moved back into the World Rally Championship lead by winning the Rally Italia after Sebastien Loeb crashed out on the final morning

Gronholm takes Rally Italia win

Until Loeb slid into a ditch in SS13, he had looked set for a fourth consecutive dominant win, despite making a slow start to the rally as he struggled with a lack of grip on the loose gravel while running first on the road during leg one.

But on Friday afternoon the world champion surged from fifth to first within three stages, helping by both surprise early leader Jari-Matti Latvala and Marcus Gronholm hitting trouble.

First Latvala broke his suspension on a rock in SS5, having lost the lead to his mentor Gronholm one stage earlier, then Gronholm damaged a damper and had to limp through the final two leg one stages.

That put Gronholm 22 seconds behind Loeb, and the gap doubled on Saturday morning when the Ford's spare wheel became detached just before Gronholm suffered a puncture, forcing the Finn to nurse the car to protect the damaged tyre.

Loeb had a lucky escape when he came across Gronholm's stray wheel in the middle of the road in SS9, but he avoided the obstacle and was able to take a 36-second lead into day three.

But just as Gronholm reconciled himself to another second place, he was handed the lead when Loeb spun off the road and into a ditch in the first leg three stage.

Gronholm - who had also spun in the stage - was left with a 36-second advantage over teammate Mikko Hirvonen, and could cruise through the final five stages to win by 29.2 seconds and take a seven point championship lead. The result also strengthened the works Ford team's lead over Citroen in the manufacturers' table.

The main interest of the final morning came from Dani Sordo and Henning Solberg's battle for third. After a hesitant Friday, Sordo made rapid progress during leg two and passed Solberg when the Stobart Ford had a spin at the end of the day. Solberg fought back this morning, and was only 5.2 seconds behind as they commenced the deciding loop of stages.

The duelling pair were first and second quickest in both SS16 and SS17, with Sordo beating Solberg by 1.8 seconds in S.Giovanni 2 then the Norweigan turning the tables by just 0.1 seconds in Monte Nuragone 2. But in SS18 Sordo made his podium position a certainty with a time 7.9 seconds quicker than Solberg could manage.

Petter Solberg finished a solitary fifth. The Subaru showed podium pace for much of the rally, but brake issues on Friday afternoon and handling difficulties at the start of leg two proved costly and left him with too much ground to recover when the Impreza was working well.

Toni Gardemeister, Manfred Stohl and Juho Hanninen completed the top eight after consistent rallies, with Hanninen scoring his first WRC point in a privateer Mitsubishi.

After his leg one incident, Jari-Matti Latvala rejoined under Superally regulations and continued to set top five stage times throughout the weekend, eventually taking ninth. Chris Atkinson also used Superally to take 10th, having crashed on Friday afternoon.

Leading results:

Pos Driver Make Time 1. Gronholm Ford 3h 48:42.0 2. Hirvonen Ford + 29.2 3. Sordo Citroen + 1:21.8 4. H Solberg Ford + 1:36.6 5. P Solberg Subaru + 2:34.2 6. Gardemeister Mitsubishi + 5:02.1 7. Stohl Citroen + 5:28.6 8. Hanninen Mitsubishi + 9:31.7 9. Latvala Ford + 11:27.7 10. Atkinson Subaru + 16:19.4 

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Series WRC
Author Matt Beer
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