Grönholm ends long dry season and returns Neste Rally Finland to Finnish ownership
Results have little positive impact on WRC tables
Marcus Grönholm and his co-driver Timo Rautiainen ended a long drought for the Peugeot stable and for themselves in winning last weekend's Neste Rally Finland, the 9th event on the World Rally Championship calendar.
For Grönholm it was the first win in over 14 months, and for Peugeot it was the maiden victory for the 307 rally car. In fact the Peugeot-Grönholm combination crossed the line first in Cyprus in May of this year, but the car was subsequently disqualified for illegal components. This was Grönholm' s 16th WRC victory, and the fourth time he has topped the podium in Finland.
Grönholm and Rautiainen and the entire Peugeot team had to bite their nails throughout the final day of the rally, as the car's gearbox - which had already hindered their progress on Saturday - continued to make strange noises, but the car came through. Not so the other Finnish Peugeot entries, as Harri Rovanperä and Sebastian Lindholm both crashed out early on while in good positions.
Grönholm was followed home by the Ford of last year's winner Markko Märtin of Estonia, with the Citroens of Carlos Sainz and Sébastien Loeb taking third and fourth respectively. Märtin might have made a closer race of it, but he was clearly still suffering the after-effects of a huge crash in the previous competition in Argentina.
The placings here in Finland mean that despite his victory, Grönholm made little real progress in his attempts to win a third WRC title. Loeb's five points for 4th place mean the Frenchman now has 66 points, and he extended his lead over Norway's Petter Solberg (Subaru, 44 points). Märtin and Grönholm both have 42 points, and veteran Spanish driver Carlos Sainz is only a further two points behind.
Sébastien Loeb's big advantage this season has been consistency - he has won four times and has finished no lower than fourth in 8 of the 9 events. Petter Solberg crashed out of the rally on Friday, but showed throughout Saturday how competitive he might have been, setting the fastest times on several stages. He was entitled to re-enter the competition under special new rules, but naturally could not qualify for championship points.
The Neste Rally Finland, formerly known as the Rally of a Thousand Lakes, has typically been a stronghold for local drivers, and this year, too, four Finns finished in the top eight, even with some high-level retirements. Janne Tuohino (Ford) was fifth, Jani Paasonen (Skoda) was 6th, and Toni Gardemeister was 8th in another Skoda.
The World Rally Championship now moves on to Germany and asphalt in two weeks' time for the OMV ADAC Rallye Deutschland. The event is likely to favour Loeb and the Citroens more than it does the Finnish drivers, who relish the high-speed thrills of the gravel rallies.
Note: There will also be a feature article on one aspect of this year's rally in the weeklies, published on Tuesday.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Four spectators injured at Neste Rally Finland (6.8.2004)
Neste Rally Finland 2004
World Rally Championship