1 M GRONHOLM / T RAUTIAINEN: PEUGEOT 206 WRC
2 T MAKINEN / R MANNISENMAKI: MITSUBISHI LANCER
3 C McRAE / N GRIST: FORD FOCUS
4 T RADSTROM / T THORNER: TOYOTA COROLLA
5 R BURNS / R REID: SUBARU IMPREZA
6 J KANKKUNEN / J REPO: SUBARU IMPREZA
7 F DELECOUR / D GRATALOUP: PEUGEOT 206 WRC
8 F LOIX / S SMEETS: MITSUBISHI CARISMA GT
9 M MARTIN / M PARK: TOYOTA COROLLA
10 D AURIOL / D GIRAUDET: SEAT CORDOBA
FIA World Rally Championship Round 2: 10-13 February 2000, 49th International Swedish Rally
Story by Kelvin Fagan - February 2000
From Monte Carlo the FIA World Rally Championship moved to Sweden - normally the only true snow rally of the Championship. However, once again the weather has denied the event the snow it wanted.
The Swedish Rally is the only event not yet to be conquered by a driver outside of Scandinavia and so the challenge was on for the visitors. FIA World Champion Tommi Makinen is chasing a hat-trick of wins to add to his first success in 1996 while the man who broke Makinen's winning streak, Kenneth Eriksson, debuts Hyundai's new Accent WRC and brings the total number of registered factory teams in the Championship to seven:
(The magnificent 7!!)Skoda did not compete on this rally. Instead the Czech team were to embark on an eight-day test in Kenya to prepare for the Sameer Safari Rally, round three of the FIA World Rally Championship, at the end of the month.
And after the embarrassment of having all three cars fail to start the second day of the Monte Carlo Rally, Peugeot were hoping for better fortune in Sweden.
Hyundai has retained its drivers from last year's FIA 2-litre Cup challenge and were relying heavily on Kenneth Eriksson's vast knowledge of his home event to bring a satisfactory result for the new team.
If anyone was going to break the Scandinavian stranglehold on this event then it should have been Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard has previously finished second in Sweden on each of the past four years and he felt it was time he moved up a place. For Sainz's Ford team mate, Colin McRae, simply getting to the finish will be an achievement as the Scot has so far failed to complete the last nine FIA World Championship rallies. He was hoping for lots of snow in the forest section "If there's plenty of snow you can drive flat out because the snow banks bounce the car back onto the road if you get too far out of line". Anybody else thinking "madman"?
At the end of the first leg, Finland's Marcus Gronholm lead the Swedish Rally for Peugeot. The last time the French team competed here it was victorious so there is plenty of pressure on Gronholm to stay at the head of the leaderboard. Before the event there were fears that the lack of snow and a combination of ice and gravel would cause major problems for everyone but this was not a factor to begin with. Even the tyre companies were delighted that the studs - crucial for grip on the ice - have stayed in place over the gravel. On the subject of the lack of snow, one stage had to be cancelled and others shortened (including the frozen lake at Torsby) because of the conditions.
Marcus Gronholm was told by his team, Peugeot, to make sure he finished this event but the Finn was not too happy about this. "I want to drive flat out to try and win".Tommi Makinen, in a Mitsubishi, had an early scare when he heard an odd noise from his transmission but this was attributed to it not having been fully 'run in' and he changed a diff after SS2 to cure the problem although some transmission noise remained.
It was a day of mixed fortunes for the new team Hyundai . Kenneth Eriksson had to change a turbo after limping through the first two stages in 40th place.
McRae in the Ford, and eager to get to the end of a rally for the first time since Portugal 1999 nearly lost it when on SS5. McRae had a huge moment that saw the Focus bouncing from one side of the road to another - so much for those bouncing snow banks!
Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm was wide awake at 4am and so was ready for action immediately! The overnight leader extended his lead with two fastest times on the first stages and was able to rest a little easier as his rivals hit trouble.
The battle for second could hardly have been closer at times with just half a second covering positions 2nd to 4th. Although there was more snow on the second day's stages, morning rain made conditions treacherous and in the afternoon crews suffered with stud retention problems on the tyres.
Mitsubishi's Tommi Makinen was not especially happy with his performance, but could not attribute it to any specific reason. He did finally, however, get rid of that annoying transmission noise that affected him on day 1 when the mechanics swapped the gearbox during the night. The World Champion lost the chance to retake second place from McRae on the Jutbo stage when he went off twice and broke three wheel rims.
Colin McRae was on a charge during day 2, and stormed into second place over the first two stages before consolidating his position with a record-breaking drive over SS13 Jutbo, 65s faster than the previous best time despite ending the stage with two punctures. Things did not go so well for Ford and Carlos Sainz when he retired before SS11 when part of the car's oil pump system sheared on the road section and caused both the oil pump and alternator to stop working.
Day three and it was still a Peugeot out in front! But The final day could have been disastrous for the Peugeot team as both its drivers hit a rock on the opening stage. Indeed no less than five of the leading crews also encountered the rock. Gronholm escaped with nothing more than a slightly damaged wheel but the impact caused Francois Delecour's diff to stop working properly.
Mitsubishi's Tommi Makinen began to put overnight leader Marcus Gronholm under pressure. While he closed the gap, his progress was hampered by hitting the same rock as his rival on the opening stage.
Ford's Colin McRae found himself locked in a battle for third place with Thomas Radstrom over the final few stages today but the Scot was more concerned with finishing his first event since Portugal last year, this he managed to do, and should restore some confidence in himself which he may have lost.
New boy's Hyundai had a fantastic debut, with the newest team in the Championship seeing both Accent WRCs reaching the finish. Kenneth Eriksson finished 13th and Alister McRae 14th. "I'm really happy at this stage of the car's development" said Eriksson. "We thought we'd lose a lot more time but things have been much better than we expected. There's still some engine work to be done but overall we are in very good shape. This is a very friendly car - it really tries to help you."
So after a very tough Swedish Rally its congratulations to Peugeot! The French team had returned to the Swedish Rally for the first time since it won here in 1986 and have now recorded their first victory for the 206WRC. The result also marked the first FIA World Rally Championship victory for driver Marcus Gronholm,who said after the rally: "On the last stage I kept asking my co-driver if I could slow down yet but he kept telling me to 'go go go'! It's too soon to talk about championships but I'm sure I can win in Finland and maybe Portugal."
Brave words indeed with the likes of Tommi Makinen and Richard Burns breathing down your neck.... The season moves onto the infamous Safari rally in Kenya on February 25 - 27. Can Ford repeat their stunning 1999 victory there?