SPORTS

Champ’s winning streak ends

Finland’s Marcus Gronholm wrapped up victory in the Acropolis Rally yesterday and ended world champion Sebastien Loeb’s five-race winning streak. The Finn, driving a Ford, took the final Super Special stage at the Olympic Stadium to claim his third victory of the season and his first-ever Acropolis Rally. He won 11 of the 18 stages and finished more than two minutes ahead of Frenchman Loeb, who was second in his Citroen. Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen, also in a Ford, came in third. Loeb still leads the championship with 74 points but Gronholm has clawed back some ground and is now second with 45. Already holding a hefty lead going into yesterday’s final leg, Gronholm took care over the rough and dusty roads before claiming the final stage. Norway’s Petter Solberg, who missed the final stage of Saturday’s second leg after being forced off the road by a non-race vehicle, took the other four stages. Gronholm’s pleasure at winning was tempered with criticism of the course, which was moved from Lamia in central Greece to the roads of Attica around Athens. He said the quality of the course on some of the stages had been rough. His criticism was echoed by other drivers, including Loeb, who suffered a puncture on Saturday which ruined his chances of challenging Gronholm. «It was a very rough rally,» he said. «If I hadn’t had the puncture then I might have been able to fight with Marcus. The stages were nice but really rough, which was bad for both cars and tyres. We have to drive very carefully, not to push a lot, but okay, I like that also.» Fourth-placed Toni Gardemeister, however, was full of praise for the new format of the rally. «Real Acropolis,» the Finn said. «Rough, hot, sunny and with hard stages. We had a few punctures during the rally but Acropolis has to be this way.»