Gronholm takes vital Turkish win

Marcus Gronholm and the Ford team achieved the perfect result in the Rally Turkey, taking a dominant win in the absence of runaway points leader Sebastien Loeb

Gronholm takes vital Turkish win

With Gronholm's teammate Mikko Hirvonen completing a Ford one-two, the team have also overhauled Kronos Citroen in the manufacturers' championship.

Gronholm was always going to be the favourite for victory after Loeb sustained a broken arm in a cycling accident. Between them, the pair had won every rally this season, and rarely allowed anyone else to disturb their private battles at the front of the field. Without Loeb, Turkey should have been easy for Gronholm.

Sure enough, he took a 24 second lead on the very first competitive stage of the rally, which was run in extremely wet conditions.

The weather caused significant disruption on Friday, with several stages cancelled. But when the rally did get going, Petter Solberg started closing in on Gronholm. The wet conditions revitalised the struggling Subaru team, and Solberg duly reeled off four consecutive stage wins.

Some dry running on Saturday morning allowed Gronholm to pull away again, but when rain - and hail - hit the afternoon loop, Solberg's charge resumed.

Unfortunately it didn't last. The Subaru struck a rock in SS15 and bounced into a ditch, retiring from the leg.

Solberg's retirement not only took the pressure off Gronholm, who had been looking anxiously at the Subaru's stage times, but elevated Hirvonen into second place after a typically quiet but productive drive. The Ford duo duly stroked their cars home for a very important one-two.

"I'm very happy to have a good win in these tricky conditions," said Gronholm. "And it's good for Ford to be one-two.

"It (the championship) will be difficult, but it's possible."

Third place was up for grabs right to the end. Henning Solberg had driven strongly all weekend to put himself on target for his first ever World Rally Championship podium, but faced a tense final morning after encountering brake problems.

"Oh s***, I was nervous!" Solberg exclaimed after crossing the flying finish. "I said this year I would be on the podium, and now I am."

Kronos Citroen could only watch as Ford swept into the lead of the manufacturers' championship. Loeb's substitute Colin McRae was frustrated when inaccurate information led to incorrect tyre choices early on, and then loathed Saturday's afternoon's rain, hail and mud.

Despite concerns over rising water temperature early on leg three, he made it up to sixth, only to stop on the very last stage with apparent electrical problems.

The highlight of Dani Sordo's weekend was his first fastest stage time on gravel. A cautious first leg and a brush with a rock on Saturday left him near the foot of the top ten, but he made it back up to seventh, passing Manfred Stohl in the final stage.

Ironically it was the out of favour Xavier Pons who was Kronos' lead contender in Turkey. He set some excellent times to advance to fifth on leg two, then dropped down the order with intercom problems before fighting back to fourth - passing both Chris Atkinson and Kosti Katajamaki in the concluding Olympos stage.

"I am very happy," said Pons, who was demoted to the team's non-scoring car last month. "This weekend has been very good for me."

Katajamaki was challenging Solberg for the podium until his Stobart Ford fell sick in the last stage.

"The oil temperature in the engine and the gearbox went very high," Katajamaki reported. "I think it went into some kind of safety mode or something because there was no power."

Atkinson blamed himself for his own late slump to sixth.

"We made a mistake and I just couldn't work with it on this stage," he said.

Results

Pos Driver Make Time 1. Gronholm Ford 3h 28:16.3 2. Hirvonen Ford + 2:23.4 3. H Solberg Peugeot + 3:06.0 4. Pons Citroen + 3:27.4 5. Katajamaki Ford + 3:28.5 6. Atkinson Subaru + 3:36.5 7. Sordo Citroen + 4:24.8 8. Stohl Peugeot + 4:30.3 9. Duval Skoda + 5:35.6 10. Aigner Skoda + 6:57.4 
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Series WRC
Author Matt Beer
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