Gronholm cruises to victory in Australia

 

Finn Marcus Gronholm won the Rally Australia today for the second straight year, finishing over 40 seconds ahead of Briton Richard Burns.

"It was a fantastic rally," Gronholm said after finishing the race in three hours, 17 minutes and 1.3 seconds.

"Yesterday was probably the best day in my rallying career. I always try my best and it is good to score points for the manufacturer and myself."

McRae took the outright lead in the world championship standings with 42 points after finishing fifth, one place ahead of fellow title contender Tommi Makinen.

McRae and Mitsubishi's Makinen were level on points coming into Rally Australia, the penultimate race of the championship.

The Ford driver, who won three of Sunday's four stages ahead of Makinen, thrilled the fans with the highest jumps and a stage time seven seconds faster than Gronholm on the penultimate stage.

But McRae said the result in Australia was disappointing for his team, although he remained confident about his title chances.

"We still have everything to go for in Britain and with three drivers separated by just two points it's going to be fun," said McRae.

"It's simple - the winner takes all."

Richard Burns in a Subaru admitted he was unable to challenge Gronholm for the lead and instead concentrated on preserving second place and securing six points vital for his drivers' championship battle.

"After Gronholm set such a fast time on the second day we gave up on catching him, we just had to keep going to hold second," Burns said.

Gronholm's win, along with strong performances by Frenchman Didier Auriol and Finland's Harri Rovanpera, who finished third and fourth respectively, helped Peugeot take a narrow lead over Ford in the constructors' championship.

The French team lead the table on 90 points with Ford five behind.

With only three points separating McRae, Makinen and Burns, the title will be decided at the Rally Great Britain, the final race of the season held from November 22nd-25th.