Rallying: Gronholm victory delivers manufacturers' title to Ford

By Neale Graham

Published: 20 November 2006

Marcus Gronholm's fourth Rally New Zealand win gave Ford their first manufacturers' championship since 1979 yesterday. The Finn, was followed home by his team-mate Mikko Hirvonen to seal the title, while Valentino Rossi, seven times motorcycling world champion, finished a credible 11th in his privately-entered Subaru.

Gronholm led from start to finish over the 17 stages to take his sixth victory of the season by 56 seconds and seal his place in the drivers' standings behind the world champion Sébastien Loeb, who was absent with a broken arm.

"Maybe it looked easy, but still we had to drive and go fast," Gronholm said. "The championship was always on my mind because it is easy to make a mistake."

Ford's only title rivals were Citroën, but the Spanish pair Xavier Pons - standing in for Loeb - and Daniel Sordo, could only finish fourth and fifth, respectively. Manfred Stohl claimed the final podium position.

For Rossi, the drive was possibly a taste of things to come after suggesting he was looking to make a move into rallying.

Four years ago, in his only previous rally, the British, he did not make it past the first day, so he was understandably delighted with his performance across three days of changeable and treacherous conditions.

"I am at the end without big problems and also with the car not damaged - that is very important," said Rossi, who was only 20 minutes off the winning pace. "It was a real experience in a real world championship rally. We tried to understand the road and the car, and just tried to improve. It was a hard job, but I enjoyed it a lot. We had great fun in the car, so I'm happy."

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