<
>

Gronholm wins Rally of Sardinia

MILAN, Italy -- Marcus Gronholm won the Rally of
Sardinia on Sunday to take over the lead in the championship
from Sebastien Loeb after the triple world champion crashed out.

Finland's Gronholm, in the main BP-Ford works team, won by
29.2 seconds from Ford's Mikko Hirvonen in second. Spain's Dani
Sordo in his Citroen finished third.

Gronholm now leads Loeb by seven points at the top of the
drivers' standings after the Frenchman hit a rock on the first
stage of the final leg.

"Fortunately we had our luck today when Seb crashed," said
Gronholm. "It's nice to see he does not drive like a machine all
the time."

Citroen driver Loeb, who had been chasing his fourth win in
a row this year and third successive victory in Italy, led the
race after the first two days and had looked set to extend his
overall advantage.

However he took a crest too fast, put a wheel slightly up on
the verge and then hit a rock with the front left wheel, which
buckled under the car.

"I had difficulty finding the ideal pace from the very
start," said Loeb in a team statement. "I felt that I wasn't
driving well and I had to push myself.

"My error came at the worst possible moment because our lead
over Marcus ... should have enabled us to control from in front.
It just goes to show that winning is never easy and that we are
always very close to the limit."

Gronholm, recording his second win of the season after
victory in Sweden, triumphed despite failing to win a stage on
the final day.

Hirvonen, anchoring Ford's second one-two of the season, won
three stages but was too far adrift to threaten Gronholm's
position.

Norway's Henning Solberg in the Stobart-Ford also claimed
two stages on the day but missed out on a podium place as Sordo
picked up his third top three finish of the season, his second
in the last three races.

Henning's brother Petter ended up in fifth spot in the
Subaru.

Champions Ford are now 21 points clear of Citroen in the
manufacturers' standings. The rally of Sardinia was the seventh
in the 16-race calendar, with the half-way point coming in
Greece in two weeks' time.