Castrol Ultimate achieve victory as Grönholm’s win extends championship lead
The World Rally Championship reached its half way point in Greece and victory for Marcus Grönholm and fourth for Mikko Hirvonen extended the Castrol Ford World Rally Team’s lead in both the manufacturers’ and drivers’ Championships.
The Castrol backed Ford team had to cancel much of its planned pre-Acropolis test because bad weather turned the exercise into a mudbath. A four-day test was scheduled near Livadia in central Greece but the second and fourth days were scrapped. “There didn’t seem much point in gathering data in those conditions,” said a team member. However both Mikko Hirvonen and Marcus Grönholm were happy with the revised engine response and suspension settings when they did manage to get some running.
The Castrol Ultimate-backed Ford team got off to a flying start over the two opening night superspecial stages with Hirvonen fastest from his team-mate. The following morning Grönholm took the lead on Friday’s opening test but then found himself ‘sweeping’ the roads of loose gravel over the next three tests to slip to fourth place.
However, in the afternoon on cleaner roads Grönholm soon powered back into the lead with three stages to go. “It’s great to be first considering my start position,” said the championship leader.
After an unscheduled swap of the Focus’ gear-change system in the morning, Hirvonen ended Friday in fifth place and nicely poised to attack on the second day. Unfortunately a 150kph off on Saturday’s opening stage cost him time. “I was lucky not to hit anything because we couldn’t see what was happening in the dust,” he said. With a broken windscreen he had to be careful for three more stages but ended the day fourth and well placed for another podium tilt.
Grönholm’s lead was increased on Saturday despite pacing himself to preserve tyres on the treacherously rocky roads amid temperatures ranging between 30-40 degrees, but the threat of Citröen’s Sébastien Loeb and Subaru’s Petter Solberg in second and third still loomed.
“It’s been another tough but strong day for us,” said Grönholm at the end of Leg 2. “But I know that both Seb and Petter will attack tomorrow so I can’t relax.”
On the final morning Loeb was quickest out of the blocks, but Grönholm had him covered and was able to keep the time loss to a handful of seconds over the next three stages, forcing the Frenchman to settle for second place.
Castrol Ford team manager Malcolm Wilson said: “This was a great win for Marcus, especially as he had to open the roads on the first day and we can really look forward to the second half of the season.”
The series takes a nine week break before regrouping in Finland where Grönholm will be plotting to become the first driver ever to win a single event seven times.
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