Martin takes crushing victory

Markko Martin played it safe in the closing stages of the Catalunya Rally to wrap up his third victory of the World Rally Championship season - and his second in succession. Just as he did two weeks ago in Corsica, the Estonian dominated on the asphalt surface in his Ford Focus

Martin takes crushing victory

Having been embroiled in a huge three-way fight for the lead between Ford team-mate Francois Duval and new world champion Sebastien Loeb during the first leg, Martin's job was made much simpler when both his rivals dropped out.

Duval took off a wheel on the final stage of the first day and was forced to retire, while Loeb damaged a sump on his Citroen Xsara and recorded only his second retirement of the season. Martin thus found himself with a 40s cushion to Marcus Gronholm, which despite not pushing on the final day, he managed to maintain to the flag.

Gronholm recorded his best result since his victory in the Finnish Rally in August. The Peugeot driver, under pressure at the beginning of the final leg from veteran local star Carlos Sainz, put in a real charge in the final afternoon of the event, taking all three stage wins.

Sainz eventually finished 15s behind the 307. The Citroen ace announced his impending retirement from the WRC on the run up to his home event and put on a typically staunch performance to record a podium finish.

If Stephane Sarrazin hasn't yet managed to attract the attention of Prodrive's bosses then his giant-killing performance on the Spanish asphalt must certainly have done so. The former Formula 1 driver has been magnificent all season on sealed-surface events and this time out beat both works Subarus fair and square in his privately-run Impreza. He even won the first stage of the final day.

Petter Solberg's asphalt woes continued as he came home fifth, 14s behind Sarrazin. The Norweigen found it impossible to find consistent pace on the smooth Spanish roads which played havoc with the grip levels of the Pirelli tyres.

Daniel Sola put in solid performance for Mitsubishi to finish sixth ahead of his team-mate Gianluigi Galli. Mikko Hirvonen came home eighth to score the last point after both he and Skoda's Toni Gardemeister moved ahead of another impressive French privateer Nicolas Vouilloz.

With just one rally left to go in 2004, in Australia in two weeks time, attention turns to the battle for second in the drivers' championship. Solberg, who is currently second, is now only three points ahead of Martin after the Estonian's two recent victories. But if both fail to finish and Sainz wins his final rally, even the Spaniard could still finish runner-up.

Solberg will however be on a surface that he can be sure will help him find a return to form and Martin will really have to find some magic to complete an end-of-season hat-trick.

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Day 3am: Martin in control

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