SS9: Solberg retakes lead

Petter Solberg now leads the Swedish Rally by 8.4s from event-long rival Marcus Gronholm after setting fastest time on the Vargasen 1 stage - despite complaining that a misted windscreen left him driving blind in the final kilometres

SS9: Solberg retakes lead

The opening stage saw Gronholm extending his tiny 0.2s advantage over Solberg to a slightly more comfortable 1.3s, only for Solberg to fly through SS9 and reverse the positions once more. Ominously for his rivals, Solberg felt he could have gone much faster had he been able to see where he was going.

"At the end my screen was completely misted," said the new rally leader. "We lost a hell of a lot of time."

Gronholm admitted that he had not been at his best on this morning's stages.

"I was not really confident with the tyres and the car," he said. "No attack at all."

Sebastien Loeb remains third, the Citroen driver having been fastest on SS8 despite a minor error.

"I went a bit in a ditch on a fast left," he said. "I think we were a bit lucky there because we only lost 2s."

Another small off on SS9 cost Loeb slightly more time, but he remains in contention.

Yesterday's star performer Gigi Galli has dropped to fifth behind Francois Duval. The narrower stages of leg two unnerved Galli slightly, although he continued to set top six stage times, while Duval insisted he was taking a conservative approach after crashing out in Monte Carlo.

Markko Martin closed in on this pair with a quick time on SS8, the Estonian feeling much happier with his Peugeot 307 after major changes overnight.

"It's such a big difference the car feels strange and I have to adjust to it again," he said. "It's a huge step forward for me."

It was a good morning for the whole Solberg family, with Petter's elder brother Henning going fifth fastest on SS9 and moving up to seventh overall in the lead Ford Focus. His cause was helped by continuing launch control problems for the factory Skodas, and by a spin for his team leader Toni Gardemeister. The Finn dropped back out of the points having crushed his exhaust on a rock in the incident on SS8.

"Bad, bad, bad, bad," was Gardemeister's summary after SS9. "But now we go to the service so it will be okay."

Further back, Toshi Arai now has a more comfortable advantage in the Production category after his closest rival Mark Higgins crashed out on today's first stage.

Of yesterday's privateer stars, Daniel Carlsson is still in with a shout of points as he runs 13th in his Bozian Peugeot 307. The Swede began leg one fighting Gronholm for third, before damaging his suspension on SS3. Kristian Sohlberg briefly got his 2002-vintage Ford Focus into the points early on leg one, but he is now only 39th having restarted under SupeRally rules following a gearbox failure yesterday afternoon. He plans to withdraw the car tonight to save it for a forthcoming domestic event.

The weather conditions remain rather marginal, with just enough snow and ice for the frontrunners on this morning's stages but concerns about the potential state of the surface by the time the cars return later today.

"This is not easy, I'm already thinking about the second loop now because there is already a lot of gravel there," said Gronholm. "It's going to be difficult."

Petter Solberg (Subaru Impreza) 1h23m03.6s
Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot 307) 1h23m12.0s
Sebastien Loeb (Citroen Xsara) 1h23m19.4s
Francois Duval (Citroen Xsara) 1h23m50.1s
Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi Lancer) 1h23m56.2s
Markko Martin (Peugeot 307) 1h24m06.8s
Henning Solberg (Ford Focus) 1h24m52.0s
Mattias Ekstrom (Skoda Fabia) 1h24m59.1s
Toni Gardemeister (Ford Focus) 1h25m06.3s
Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi Lancer) 1h25m06.4s

Janne Tuohino (Skoda Fabia) 1h25m08.0s
Roman Kresta (Ford Focus) 1h25m21.3s
Chris Atkinson (Subaru Impreza) 1h25m41.8s
Jani Paasonen (Skoda Fabia) 1h25m42.7s
Anthony Warmbold (Ford Focus) 1h26m49.1s
Stephane Sarrazin (Subaru Impreza) 1h27m30.9s

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