09 February 2003 - 22:29
Gronholm and Peugeot keep their Swedish crowns
Rally of Sweden : Finish - Review
Having clinched his 2002 world title here in Sweden, Marcus strikes again this year and walks away with the honours of the 52nd running of the Rally of Sweden. This rally kept its streak alive: no non-Scandinavian driver has been able to win here since its inception! As for Peugeot, this is their fourth consecutive win in Sweden, and it mirrors last year's start of the season, with a less-than-perfect Monte-Carlo followed by success in Karlstad.
Gronholm's private playground
Marcus Gronholm's victory leaves no doubts. Leader at the end of SS2, the reigning world champion knew how to handle his opposition throughout the three days' racing.
Totally dominating the first part of the event, Peugeot seemed destined to sweep the Swedish podium. Atop leg one's leaderboard, we found four Peugeot in the top five. But the ensuing leg proved fatal to two of them. Juuso Pykalisto rolled his car and, while he was attempting to get back on the road, he got speared by Rovanpera's 206, causing the retirement of the two Lions.
Peugeot still had the lead in Gronholm and had Richard Burns in third place overall. These wouldn't change for the rest of the event.
Makinen as we like him!
Four time world champion Tommi Makinen has always shown a ferocious desire to win. Last year wasn't a good one for the Finn, with more DNF's than he cared for. This Rally of Sweden was vintage Makinen, fighting for victory at all times, never letting Gronholm breathe easy. But the Peugeot driver was just too strong, leaving the Impreza driver safely behind.
Petter Solberg wouldn't be so lucky. Struggling with a car for which he'd picked the wrong type of tyres (not the proper width), Solberg lost a lot of time in the first leg. The fact that he was recovering from the flu probably didn't help! On Saturday, Solberg fine-tuned the setup of his Subaru, allowing the Norwegian to mount an attack for the rest of the rally. His efforts put him in sixth place overall.
The Ford team also struggled in the early stages of this rally. Their leader Markko Martin couldn't find his groove, Mikko Hirvonen's lack of experience prevented him from shining, and Francois Duval spun in SS5, forcing his retirement.
Things looked bleak for the Blue Oval, hoping to leave Karlstad with a few points. Then all of a sudden Martin decided to kick things up a notch and started a comeback that would lead him to fourth place overall, with a stage win on Sunday to top it off.
Mikko Hirvonen reached his objective: get to the end of the rally! So he's six minutes behind the leader...
Citroen: paying for their Monaco win
There was one certainty at the start of the season: the Xsara would be competitive on tarmac events. Snow and gravel would be another story. At the end of the Swedish rally, we can safely say that the Citroen can hold its own on snow. It's unfortunate that the end results don't reflect their true potential.
Playing 'sweeper' in the first leg cost the Xsara trio dearly, who couldn't quite make up for this penalty during the last two legs. The best recovery was by Colin McRae, going from 13th on Friday to 5th on Sunday. Sebastien Loeb jumped eleven spots to 7th, while Sainz went from 12th to 9th. Thanks to McRae and Loeb, Citroen leaves the Varmland still on top of the manufacturers' standings, two points ahead of Peugeot's 22. The drivers' championship has two leaders with McRae and Loeb tied for first place with twelve points each.
A hard-earned point for Gardemeister
The Octavia can't allow its drivers to win, so the story goes. Toni Gardemeister and Didier Auriol were settling for finishing ahead of rivals Hyundai and if possible gather a few points along the way for Skoda. Mission accomplished for Toni Gardemeister, his 8th place giving the Czech constructor one precious point.
Didier Auriol ruined his chance of a good showing by going off-road during the first leg, losing two-and-a-half minutes in the proceedings.
Nothing to show for at Hyundai whose two drivers spent their time extracting every little bit of torque the Accent was willing to offer - which is to say, not much. Loix and Schwarz fought like demons, to no avail. On a positive note, the Accent had become competitive by the end of the race according to the Belgian.
Backlund: right place, right time!
By winning SS13 this morning, Swede Kenneth Backlund made it clear he wasn't going to let Stig Olov Walfridson take the honours of this 52nd Rallye of Sweden without putting up a fight.
In an effort to keep his fellow countryman at bay, Stig Olov pushed hard to take the win in SS15, but this would prove fatal to his Lancer's engine. Backlund became the leader of the Group N category, just in time for the last timed stage!
Aware of each and every suspect noise and unusual behaviour of his Mitsubishi, Kenneth Backlund and Bosse Holmstrand safely made it to the finish line and ended up winning the 2003 Swedish event. The Swedes have a comfortable one- minute lead over the Italian team of Galli-Damore, coming back in the top part of the leaderboard thanks to their three stage wins in this third and final leg.
The category's podium is completed by a third Mitsubishi driven by Swedes Ekstrom-Bergman, closely followed by Svenlund-Nilsson.
Once again a stage winner today, Juha Salo was not able to overcome the four minutes that separated him from the leader but still ends up an encouraging 8th.
With the retirement of Toshi Arai, who lead the teams officially entered in the Production class, the victory falls in the arms of Polish Janusz Kulig (Mitsubishi), who gets ten championship points. Stig Blomqvist (Subaru / Sutton) and Karamjit Sign (Proton) are also on the podium, ahead of the Sutton Subaru of Martin Rowe.
Canadian Patrick Richard, involved in an accident during the recce that prevented his regular co-driver to take part in the Swedish event, drove to an 18th-place finish.
The fight between Wilstrom's Clio, Joge's 306 and Storm's Xsara for the N3 category saw the Renault of Michael Wilstrom finishing ahead of the Peugeot and the Citroen.
CAPSIS International, 09/02/2003