Gronholm holds of Loeb challenge

Marcus Gronholm received the perfect birthday present today when he held off Sebastien Loeb to win the Swedish Rally and extend his lead in the world championship.

The Ford driver, who won the first round in Monte Carlo two weeks ago, led from start to finish in Sweden, despite a valiant effort from Citroen rival Loeb.

Gronholm won the final three stages to finish with a comfortable half-minute advantage, stretching his championship lead over Loeb to four points.

“This is another fantastic result,” said Gronholm, who was 38 today. “After my first test in the Focus here before Christmas, I thought I could take a good result in the rally but to win is just amazing.

“To win both my first two rallies in the car is a dream and it’s good for the future. “My birthday isn’t so important now. The big thing for me is that the Focus has proved so competitive all weekend.

“I just hope that the car will be as competitive on gravel because it would be great to continue this winning run on the next round.”

The two title contenders were in a league of their own as the rest of the pack squabbled for minor positions well adrift of the leaders.

Daniel Carlsson came out on top of a close battle with fellow Mitsubishi driver Gianluigi Galli to steal third place on the final day.

Thomas Radstrom, driving a Subaru, was fifth while Ford driver Kosti Katajamaki took sixth. Xavier Pons was seventh with Henning Solberg’s OMV Peugeot eighth.

Solberg’s brother Petter, a former world champion, completed a miserable rally by being disqualified on the penultimate stage.

The Subaru driver was out of contention following mechanical problems and a time penalty on Friday but was removed from the results altogether after a push start to stage 18.

Englishman Matthew Wilson was 14th for Stobart Ford but Suzuki’s Guy Wilks just missed out on junior class points in ninth.

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