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Gronholm Capitalizes On Loeb Miscue To Win Swedish Rally

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The second rally of the season was the first 'loose surface' rally that the new C4 piloted by Sebastien Loeb has competed on. The start was bad for the Frenchman, as he stalled the Citroen on the initial super special stage and ended the stage in 20th position. But Finn racer Marcus Gronholm and the Ford fared well enough to win the Swedish Rally.

The rally is usually dominated by the Scandinavian drivers, with Loeb in 2004 being the exception.

The morning of the first day was dominated by the Subaru of Petter Solberg and the Ford of Marcus Gronholm. The afternoon fared a little better for the C4, pulling his way back up to second, 11 seconds behind Gronholm at the end of the day. Gigi Gali had a big off in the afternoon, putting his Citroen Xara into a snowbank and had to dig the car out, but the Italian had been running well up to that point.

Loeb came out on day two with a renewed vigor, putting in fast times on the initial stage cutting the lead to 9.9 seconds.

 The long 10th stage saw Petter Solberg lose the back end after clipping the snowbank with the front of the car, this caused him to dig the car into a deep snowbank and loose 14 minutes, ending his challenge at the top. The car did however look a little better this rally on the BF Goodrich tyres after their switch from Pirelli at the start of the year.

After the 34-kilometer Stage 10, there was only a half-second between the top two drivers, this showed how well balanced the Ford/Gronholm and Citroen/Loeb packages are over the most demanding of stages on the rally.

Stages 11 and 12 saw performance drops from Loeb as it turned out that he chose the wrong tyres at the service after Stage 10. This allows Gronholm to put an extra 7 seconds into his lead of the rally putting him 27 seconds ahead of Loeb.

The last few stages of the second day saw Gronholm add more time to his lead. However his Ford teammate Hemming Solberg lost his Focus and dropped it into a snow bank, dropping him out of contention.

Day Three saw an issue with the early running Fords as some of the Stobart Ford cars suffered a frozen oil breather pipe, causing them to overheat. It didn't seem to trouble the factory cars, as Gronholm finished the initial stage 42 seconds ahead of second place man Loeb.

Chris Atkinson and Manfred Stohl showed how difficult this rally can be for non Scandinavians, both having big offs and losing time. The off was so bad for the Australian Atkinson that he buckled two of his wheels and lost a minute.

 The last stage was the 2-kilometer super special stage in Karlstad, and it looked all sewn up for Gronholm in the Ford. Loeb was 47.8 seconds behind the rally leader. The top two competed head to head on the super special stage and put on a good show for the fans.

Without the mistake in tyres on day two, Loeb probably would have been closer, but the Ford and Gronholm still would have been victorious.

The 2007 rally championship is still lead by Loeb with 18, with Gronholm 2 points behind the Frenchman, the season has just started, but looks like it could be a good one, after all the C4 still has to prove itself on the gravel races.

Norway is the next rally, and that too is a snow event. 

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