Norwegian Petter Solberg overcame a fierce challenge from Peugeot’s Marcus Gronholm to win the Swedish Rally – an event the victorious Subaru driver regards as his “home” rally.

Norwegian Petter Solberg overcame a fierce challenge from Peugeot’s Marcus Gronholm to win the Swedish Rally – an event the victorious Subaru driver regards as his “home” rally.

"It's a great feeling, like a big dream, I almost can't believe it's true," Solberg said on Sunday. "This rally is so special but has been tough for me in the past, and now this year it's just gone perfectly."

Indeed, this is as close to a "home" rally as it gets for Solberg. As there is no WRC event in Norway, his fans flock across the border to Sweden to cheer on their hero.

"We made no mistakes - not in the car, or in the team, or anywhere - it just all came into place so well," Solberg added.

Finnish double World champion Gronholm led the event on Friday, and duelled with Solberg during Saturday's stages, trailing 12,6 seconds behind the Norwegian going into the final leg. By the end of SS15, Solberg was 13 seconds clear of Gronholm, and held a lead of over 48 seconds over then third-placed Loeb, whose Citroën was uncharacteristically suffering from engine problems.

But on SS16, the 23-km long Rammen stage, the sump guard on Gronholm's Peugeot 307 WRC caught the road surface and the Finn's car drifted off line, spinning off the road and rolling onto its roof. Gronholm and co-driver Timo Rautiainen got the car going again, but they had to abandon the stage after another 4 km due to heavy damage to the left front wheel.

"Same thing as in Australia last year," Gronholm said, referring to the spin he had Down Under when his car’s sump guard also caught on the ground. "Of course we're upset, but if we don't drive at this kind of speed, we can't win anything, either. We could have been third, fourth or fifth, but we're here to win."

Defending champion Sébastien Loeb, by contrast, was driving cautiously and trying to make his engine last despite a cooling problem that developed on Saturday. It wasn't to be enough, though, and the engine in the Frenchman's Xsara WRC seized on the road section just before the penultimate stage of the rally.

To make things worse for Citroën, Francois Duval, who had been battling for fourth place with Peugeot’s Markko Martin, suffered three punctures - the third time he was forced to replace a wheel as the run-flat foam leaked out of the broken wheel.

"The Lejen stage (SS11) was not good to us," the Belgian explained. "Last year, we went off there. This year one of the many stones on the test ruined our chances. I never saw a Swedish Rally like this one: usually, you are sliding along".

Duval dropped back to 15th, but clawed his way back to 12th place by the finish to score a single manufacturers' championship point for Citroën as the eighth nominated driver.

With the exits of Loeb and Gronholm, second place fell into the lap of Martin, the Estonian having taken a more cautious approach to the rally than team-mate Gronholm. Still coming to terms with the 307 WRC, Martin was thrilled to be on the middle step of the podium, even at 2:11 off Solberg's pace.

"I am a little surprised to finish second here," Martin said. "I learned a lot about the setup of my car and about the new Pirelli tyres, which were very fast and retained the studs extremely well despite the difficult, gravelly road conditions."

Ford driver Toni Gardemeister, also new to his team this year, not only claimed third place in the Focus RS WRC04, but also took over the lead of the WRC championship - a position the young Finn never expected to be holding after the first two rallies of 2005.

"Absolutely fantastic!" Gardemeister said after taking the final podium position, a minute adrift of Martin. "To be leading both world championships is a superb situation for both myself and Ford. I've never been in this position before."

"My pace wasn't so good on the first day but I've felt much more comfortable since and gained a lot more confidence in the car," the 29-year-old Finn said. " We took no risks but just kept to a speed with which I felt happy. We had some luck with the retirement of drivers ahead of us, but the Focus is a strong car and while others had problems, we didn't."

Mitsubishi pilot Harri Rovanpera took fourth, 12 seconds behind Gardemeister, followed by Henning Solberg (Ford) and Daniel Carlsson (Peugeot) who was the top Swede in the rally.

The top positions were dominated by Northern European drivers - the two Solbergs from Norway, Carlsson from Sweden, Martin from Estonia, and Gardemeister and Rovanpera from Finland - no surprise given the wintry conditions. Gianluigi Galli in seventh and Roman Kresta in 8th were the first “southerners” at the finish.

Heading to Mexico next, the 2005 championship standings bear little resemblance to most expectations, with Gardemeister leading Martin by a single point, and Loeb and Solberg tied for third with 10 points - and one victory - each.

Original article from Car