Loeb Closes In on Gronholm

Marcus Gronholm's lead of the Rally Finland is under threat from Sebastien Loeb and Petter Solberg after the pair hauled him in on the SS6

Loeb Closes In on Gronholm

Gronholm made a stellar start to his home event in the Peugeot 307 WRC, handling the wet conditions admirably and winning three of the day's opening four stages.

However, the Finn lost six seconds to both Solberg and Loeb on SS6, and the top three are now only separated by 16.8s, with Loeb just 1.6 seconds off Gronholm in second.


Gronholm was hit by a bizarre problem, when his co-driver Timo Rautiainen injured his back during a jump on the stage. Rautiainen was unable to continue reading the pace notes and Gronholm was forced to take a conservative approach.

Loeb, chasing his seventh consecutive WRC win, has never won the Rally Finland, but has been warned by Citroen team bosses to make sure he brings home manufacturer points rather than going all out for the event win. Despite this, he won the first stage of the day, the 24.86km stage Lankamaa.

Solberg also took a stage victory on SS6, and considering Gronholm gave the Peugeot 307 the only win of its WRC career at last year's Finnish event, the battle for win on this year's event looks like it is going to be close.

Behind the leading trio is Gronholm's Peugeot teammate Mark Martin, having a much improved showing. The Estonian, a winner of the Rally Finland in 2003, hasn't finished on the podium since the Cyprus Rally but is now only 14.1 seconds off Solberg.

The works Ford pair to Toni Gardemeister and Mikko Hirvonen are in hot pursuit of Martin however, with 11 seconds separating the three. Hirvonen has been upgraded from his usual privateer Focus to the latest works machine for his home event, after impressing on the Acropolis Rally.

Mitsubishi's Harri Rovanpera and Citroen's Francois Duval are locked in a battle for for seventh.

Other works cars haven't faired so well on this morning's stages. Rovanpera's Mitsubishi's teammate Gigi Galli went off the road on SS2. Despite the help of spectators recovering the Lancer, the damage to the suspension has put him out for the day.

Skoda's Jani Paasonen also hit trouble on SS2, the Finn dropping nearly three minutes to the leaders when he too went off the road.

After an encouraging start, Subaru's Chris Atkinson stopped 0.7km before the end of SS4 after he clipped a rock on the apex of a left-hander. The rock caused suspension and steering damage and sidelined Atkison for the rest of the Leg.

He is expected the re-start the rally on Leg Two under the Superally rules.

Leading times after SS6:

Pos Driver Make Time  1. Gronholm Peugeot 46:56.6 2. Loeb Citroen + 1.8 3. Solberg Subaru + 16.8 4. Martin Peugeot + 30.9 5. Gardemeister Ford + 35.3 6. Hirvonen Ford + 46.4 7. Rovanpera Mitsubishi + 1:10.1 8. Duval Citroen + 1:34.2 9. Solberg Ford + 1:41.7 10. Tuohino Skoda + 1:45.8 11. Sohlberg Subaru + 2:09.9 12. Warmbold Ford + 2:12.0 13. Stohl Citroen + 2:18.3 14. Kresta Ford + 2:44.3 15. Latvala Toyota + 2:46.8 16. Schwarz Skoda + 3:04.3 17. Lindholm Peugeot + 3:06.6 18. Pons Citroen + 3:47.6 19. Kuistila Mitsubishi + 5:30.3 20. Flodin Mitsubishi + 6:09.6 All Timing Unofficial 

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