Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen claimed their seventh Rally Finland win this weekend to establish a new record for the highest number of successes in a single event since the creation of the World Rally Championship in 1973. Indeed, Marcus has only failed to win this legendary event once since 2000. This time round, driving the new Ford Focus WRC07/BFGoodrich® Tires, he succeeded in warding off pressure from both fellow-Finn Mikko Hirvonen (Ford/BFGoodrich Tires) and Sebastien Loeb (Citroeumln/BFGoodrich Tires) to claim his 29th world class win and strengthen his grasp at the top of the driver's championships points table.
Set into the concrete of the Hotelli Jmsa's forecourt, there are Hollywood-style traces of the hand and footprints of all the '1000 Lakes Rally' masters, from Mikkola and Alen, to Mäkinen, Auriol and Sainz. All, that is, except Marcus Groumlnholm.
Unsurprisingly, that doesn't bother the espoo-based driver who, instead, took a step further toward ensuring an indelible place in Rally Finland's statistics books - and perhaps even in those of the World Rally Championship itself - thanks to his new, record score of seven wins in the same event; all of which, may we add, were obtained on tires produced by the Michelin Group.
In recent years, Gronholm has had to ward off pressure from Sebastien Loeb, but this time he had two threats to contend with: that of Loeb and his C4 WRC/BFGoodrich Tires and also that of his own teammate Mikko Hirvonen in the new Ford Focus WRC07 who no longer has any complexes since his win earlier in the year in Norway against the championship's cregraveme de la cregraveme.
Showery weather prior to the start had left the stages damp, but the locals lost no time making their mark on Friday morning when Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford/BFGoodrich Tires) posted the fastest time before dropping back (accident, suspension...) and ultimately retiring. After that, Grönholm and Hirvonen traded top times up to SS8 and, after 100km of action at more than 120kph, the Ford pair was split by one tiny second.
Victory on the day's last four tests enabled Gronholm to park up in Jyvaumlskylauml; that night with a cushion of 4.4 seconds over Hirvonen and a lead of 15.8 seconds over Loeb. Despite these relatively small gaps, the Finn seemed confident. He considered the next day's stages to be home territory and had absolutely no intention of allowing Loeb to post the best time on the legendary Ouninpohja stage as he did in 2006.
Unphased by Loeb's fastest time on SS12 or by Hirvonen's two quickest times on Saturday afternoon, Gronholm went on to claim the last two stages of the long second leg (which included two attempts at Ouninpohja, 33km) to gain a little extra breathing space at the top. Not much, but sufficient to leave Hirvonen and Loeb stranded more than 20 seconds and 1 minute adrift respectively at the end of Day 2.
The weekend's last three tests to the north of Jyvaumlskylauml; on Sunday morning changed nothing at the top of the leader board, allowing Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen to pop the champagne at the end of the Finnish round for the seventh time in eight years, a score equalled only by Hannu Mikkola, but three of his wins came prior to the creation of the WRC.
This one-two result for Ford takes the team 40 points clear of Citroeumln/BFGoodrich Tires in the manufacturers' standings. Only Loeb scored for the French team after an engine problem stopped Dani Sordo in his tracks while in fifth position. Petter Solberg (Subaru/BFGoodrich Tires) once again figured on the retirement's list after suffering differential trouble on Day 1, although a quick, consistent run from his teammate Chris Atkinson bagged fourth place for the Australian.
Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen (Ford/BFGoodrich Tires)
"It's true we have had some pretty fierce fights on this event over the years, with Richard (Burns), Harri (Rovanperä) and Sebastien (Loeb). This year, though, we were under pressure until the very end of the second leg. I was counting on Saturday's stages to pull clear but I had to give it 110 percent. Over the Ouninpohja jumps, we landed in places we had never previously landed!"
Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford/BFGoodrich Tires)
"I gave it everything I had but after the second attempt at Heikki (SS19), it was clear I wouldn't catch Marcus. I can tell you that I have never driven as quickly as this on this rally. The car had to be extremely stable at these extremely high speeds and our BFGoodrich tires gave us that stability all weekend long."
Matthieu Bonardel (BFGoodrich Tires Rally Program Manager):
"For BFGoodrich Tires, it was a gradual return to the competitive arena after the summer break since it turned out to be a fairly straightforward weekend for us. We didn't record any punctures and there was very little wear on these high-speed stages. Our tires were very competitive and gave the drivers enough grip to keep up a very fast pace. Our partners used the full spectrum of tires we had here in Finland, from the extra-soft compound for SS1 all the way through to the medium compound. That said, not one of our drivers took any gambles regarding tire choices which were globally the same each time within each team. The holidays will be well and truly behind us, however, when we move on to Germany, which can be something of a lottery, in a fortnight's time."
Statistics: Rally Finland
Total route length: 1,375.15km
Total stage length: 360.34km
Tires used: g-Force Gravel soft ('8'), medium/soft ('9-') and medium ('9')
1, Gronholm/Rautiainen (Ford Focus WRC07), 2h 57m 26.1s. 2, Hirvonen/Lehtinen (Ford Focus WRC07), +24.2s. 3, Loeb/elena (Citroën C4 WRC), +1m 9.9s. 4, Atkinson/Prevot (Subaru WRC2007), +3m 2.8s. 5, H. Solberg/Menkerud (Ford Focus WRC06), +4m 29.4s. 6, Pons/Amigo (Subaru Impreza WRC2007), +7m 0.5s. 7, Aava/Siik (Mitsubishi Lancer WRC), +7m 39.6s. 8, Ostberg/Unnerud (Subaru Impreza WRC), +9m 31.9s. etc.
DRIVeRS: 1, M. Gronholm (75 pts). 2, S. Loeb (62). 3, M. Hirvonen (57). 4, D. Sordo and H. Solberg (28). etc. MANUFACTUReRS: 1, BP-Ford (132 pts). 2, Citroën-Total (92). 3, Subaru (48). 4, VK-Stobart M Sport (45). 5, OMV-Kronos Citroën (27). 6, Munchi's Ford (6).
Next round: Rallye Deutschland (August 17-19). BFGoodrich WRC tires: g-Force Profiler and g-Force Profiler H Tire quota: 60 tires per priority driver (of which 42 may be used)
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