Rallying: Gronholm close to Ford double

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The Independent Online

Marcus Gronholm has only to suppress his natural attacking instincts to complete an elusive double success for Ford in the World Rally Championship.

The Finn, who led Ford to their first manufacturers' title in 27 years, is now on the verge of ending the Cumbria-based team's equally long and frustrating wait for victory at Wales Rally GB.

Gronholm leads his closest challenger, the Austrian Manfred Stohl, driving a Peugeot, by more than a minute with only today's four stages remaining.

Petter Solberg's quest for a fifth consecutive win here for Subaru effectively perished when he hit a post and damaged his steering yesterday afternoon. The Norwegian's crash allowed Gronholm to disappear into the rain-lashed distance.

Gronholm, 38, said: "I was able to ease off a little and my lead is comfortable. The car is perfect so I'm happy with that. But the conditions have been getting worse. There was heavy rain and even sleet and I'm having trouble with my windscreen wipers. I still have to drive steadily because I don't want to have to fight hard on the last day, and the stages are going to be difficult."

Ford are finishing the season as the dominant force in the sport following the injury that put Kronos Citroën's Sébastien Loeb, the world champion for the past three years, out of action.

Gronholm is conscious of the team's desperation to sign off with a win here and strike a psychological blow ahead of the 2007 Championship. Malcolm Wilson, Ford's team principal, said: "It will be good to win this rally after such a long time, but we have to be looking to next season and it's important we carry this momentum into the Monte Carlo Rally."

Solberg and Subaru have endured an agonising season and again fell short here. But Subaru provided championship-winning equipment for Colin McRae and Richard Burns, as well as Solberg, and will be encouraged by their improved competitiveness in South Wales.

Solberg has revelled in the rare opportunity to charge and will expect more of the same when hostilities resume in a little over six weeks. "It has been hard for us but I've been attacking like mad to try and put pressure on Marcus," he said.

Wilson's 19-year-old son, Matthew, the only British driver with a full WRC programme, has demonstrated his potential by challenging for a top 10 placing in the Stobart Ford Focus, despite a one-minute penalty.

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