Subaru’s Petter Solberg snatched victory in the New Zealand Rally after Peugeot’s Marcus Gronholm spun on the penultimate stage of the event on Sunday.

Subaru’s Petter Solberg snatched victory in the New Zealand Rally after Peugeot’s Marcus Gronholm spun on the penultimate stage of the event on Sunday.


Solberg, the defending WRC titleholder, reclaimed the lead he held for most of the event when the handbrake jammed on Gronholm's Peugeot 307 WRC while exiting the corner. The Finn lost more than 18 seconds on the spin, losing his scant 1,9 second lead over Solberg and dropping him into a second-place tie with Markko Martin going into the final stage, the SS23.


But Gronholm drove like a man possessed on that stage, the 29,6-km Whaanga Coast 2. With a clear 10,4-second margin over Solberg's Subaru and 19,7 seconds over Martin, Gronholm secured second place, but could not make up the 5,9 seconds to deny Solberg his first victory of 2004.


"If there is one man you don't want behind you on the final day, it's Gronholm," Solberg said. "We were both pushing like hell out there. He had trouble, then I had trouble. I'm totally exhausted, but, overall, it's been really, really good fun. To win here is a great feeling!"


Solberg had to fight hard for the lead on Friday with Gronholm, Harri Rovanpera and Markko Martin. However, once the Finn rolled his Peugeot on the final corner of SS6, losing 40 seconds, Solberg took charge claiming the lead from Rovanpera and was not seriously challenged until the closing stages of the rally.


The Norwegian held the lead throughout the second leg on Saturday, building a 20-second cushion in spite of winning only two of the second day's stages. Steady top-three times on most of the stages looked to be enough for Solberg to cruise to victory on the final day.


However, it all went wrong on the SS20 – the Whaanga Coast 2 stage. Solberg's Subaru was hit by a rock thrown up by another competitor, and suffered damage to its power steering. Solberg lost 29,6 seconds to Citroën’s Sebastien Loeb, and, more importantly, Gronholm beat him by 20,9 seconds to claim the lead.


"I came into a tight, right-hander, and hit something on the inside," Solberg said. "Straight away the steering went and I had to do the rest of the stage with no power assistance at all. I think I was quite lucky in some respects, as I've been doing a lot of weights recently!"


That set up the final dramatic stages, with Gronholm barely a second ahead in front, and Martin only 12 seconds further behind Solberg. Alas, Martin's Ford Focus did not have the goods for a final attack, and the Estonian was not ready to take advantage of Gronholm's handbrake incident on SS22, eventually finishing 25.6 seconds back.


"A podium result is always a good one so I'm happy after what has been an +interesting weekend," Martin recounted at the end of the event. "Had we known that Petter was going to have a problem this morning then we would have pushed harder, but we didn't want to take risks when we were in a safe third."


In the final analysis, Solberg had claimed five stage wins to Gronholm's eight, with Martin at two. Loeb, who finished the rally in fourth - a decent result for the tarmac specialist - took another two stage wins for Citroën, and Harri Rovanpera, Gronholm's team-mate at Peugeot finished in fifth-place finish.

Original article from Car