Solberg Fends Off Gronholm in Mexico

Norwegian Petter Solberg kept Subaru in control of the Rally of Mexico on Saturday while world champion Sebastien Loeb tried to salvage what he could after a nightmare first leg

Solberg Fends Off Gronholm in Mexico

With Finland's Marcus Gronholm cutting Solberg's overnight advantage from 20.5 seconds to 14.1 after the eighth stage, the 2003 champion hit back.

Solberg set the fastest time on the 23.5 km stage nine over rough gravel roads around Leon in central Mexico to lead Peugeot's former champion by 16 seconds at the halfway point in the second leg.

Gronholm's Estonian team mate Markko Martin was in third place, 26.3 seconds off the lead.

Belgian Francois Duval, in a Citroen, was fourth while French team mate Loeb battled back from 14th place on Friday night to 10th and with a real chance of snatching a point by Sunday's finish.

Loeb, who lost more than three minutes on Friday due to a failed shock absorber, won the day's opening seventh stage from El Zauco to Mesa 1.

"I like Rally Mexico, but it doesn't like me," said the Frenchman after Friday's leg. "Tactically I don't have much choice.

"The car is perfect so I intend to drive as fast as reasonable in the hope that, who knows, I can salvage some points."

Gronholm was fastest in the eighth stage.

Czech driver Roman Kresta retired from the leg after a heavy frontal impact in stage eight. He had been sixth overall and the leading Ford runner.

Australian Chris Atkinson, Solberg's team mate, also retired in only his second world championship rally as a nominated Subaru driver. He had been in fifth place.

Championship leader Toni Gardemeister, in a Ford, moved up to fifth place after suffering from 'flu on Friday.

Gardemeister has 14 points after two rallies, one clear of Martin and three ahead of Loeb and Solberg. Ford are three points clear of Peugeot in the manufacturers' standings.

Leading times after nine of 14 stages:

 Pos Driver Team Time 1. Petter Solberg (Norway) Subaru 2h13:03.6 2. Marcus Gronholm (Finland) Peugeot + 16.0 3. Markko Martin (Estonia) Peugeot + 42.3 4. Francois Duval (Belgium) Citroen + 1:06.5 5. Toni Gardemeister (Finland) Ford + 2.51.2 6. Antony Warmbold (Germany) Ford + 3:05.8 7. Daniel Sola (Spain) Ford + 3:15.1 8. Harri Rovanpera (Finland) Mitsubishi + 3:30.3 9. Gilles Panizzi (France) Mitsubishi + 4:06.8 10. Sebastien Loeb (France) Citroen + 4:25.3 
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Series WRC
Drivers Henning Solberg
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