Rallying: Ford's hopes rest with Grönholm after Hirvonen makes early exit

Ford's hopes of winning their home event on the World Rally Championship for the first time in 27 years rest with Marcus Grönholm after his team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was forced to pull out yesterday.

The Cumbria-based team were dominating Wales Rally GB. Ford's two Finnish drivers led the charge in the opening three stages, Hirvonen relishing his release from team orders and the opportunity to measure his pace against the illustrious Grönholm.

The younger man was evidently undaunted by a hefty collision with a rock in the fog of the first stage that redesigned the bodywork of the Focus. But at the service following stage three, an official discovered a dent to the car's roll cage and ruled it unsafe to drive. Hirvonen's rally, and season, were over.

A dismayed Hirvonen said: "I wanted to carry on but they wouldn't let me. I'm really disappointed because this was my chance to go for it and show what I could do. I hit a rock at the end of the first stage and tipped the car over but we didn't roll. It was a stupid mistake. The door is damaged and I couldn't open it. I was managing to drive and push OK. It's a shame to end the season in this way because it looked as though we could get first and second here.''

The damage rendered Hirvonen's performance all the more admirable. He attacked the slippery, twisty track with the determination of a man on a mission. To Hirvonen's dismay, it was all in vain.

His withdrawal puts additional pressure on Grönholm, who drove with the authority befitting his experience and the car's superiority. His closest challenger is Norway's Petter Solberg, trying to defy the limitations of the current Subaru and win Rally GB for the fifth year in succession. Third was Austria's Manfred Stohl, in a Peugeot.

Grönholm was fastest on four of the day's six stages and it appears that as long as he steers clear of rocks and other obstacles, he will collect his seventh win of the season and end Ford's frustration in this country.

The problem for Ford is that they no longer have margin for error or misfortune. Grönholm duly opted for prudence in the afternoon and completed the day with a lead of 25.8sec.

He said: "We were pushing hard but taking no risks. I'm enjoying it at the moment but I'm not looking forward to it when it rains - and that is forecast for later in the weekend.''

Gronholm's immediate concern may be to negotiate the last two days safely, but he admits his sights are already on next season and the prospect of taking the drivers' title from Sébastien Loeb, who has missed four rallies with a broken arm.

Britain's Kris Meeke and Guy Wilks, competing in the junior world championship, ran into problems as they sought to stake their claims for drives in the senior category.

Wales Rally GB (Swansea): Leading standing (after first six stages): 1 M Grönholm (Fin) Ford 1hr 14min 51.900sec; 2 P Solberg (Nor) Subaru +25.800sec; 3 M Stohl (Aut) Peugeot 48.100; 4 J-M Latvala (Fin) Ford +1min 54.400sec; 5 D Sordo (Sp) Citroën 2:11.000; 6 X Pons (Sp) Citroën 2:11.900; 7 C Atkinson (Aus) Subaru 2:46.200; 8 M Higgins (GB) Ford 2:52.700; 9 F Duval (Bel) Skoda 2:53.100; 10 H Rovanpera (Fin) Skoda 3:40.200.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee