Grönholm has reason to celebrate

Grönholm has reason to celebrateFrom Chris Biewer [ 15/10/2004 ].
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Somehow Marcus has not stuck to his rhythm this year. His usual self was like for many reigning World Champions to have a truly amazing year followed by a somewhat rotten year. For Marcus he was a World champion in the even years 2000 & 2002, but as soon as he had the #1 on his door for the following odd year, luck just deserted him and he was nowhere near defending his title. Now, 2004 is an even year, there is no #1 on his door, although this year you have to look very closely to note this, maybe that’s the problem. Apart from victory in Finland, Grönholm had reason to cry his eyes out virtually every event. But on Corsica he will be celebrated never mind the result – as Marcus Grönholm joins the exclusive club of drivers having started 100 WRC events!

Marcus Grönholm has never been part of the well supported Finnish junior team, the organisation that brought Juha Kankkunen, Timo Mäkinen, Harri Rovanperä, Toni Gardemeister and a few more to the forefront. It is suspected that Marcus being raised in the Swedish speaking part of Finland had to do with that. Never mind, today Marcus is especially proud of exactly that fact. He made it to the top without that management team and without his nationality playing a bigger part, he came to the top all by his own and his own skills.

Nowadays the Grönholm clan is maybe the most famous Finnish rally family there is. Only a few days ago the family celebrated a major success. Only last weekend Marcus' cousin Sebastian Lindholm in his Peugeot 206 WRC Evo3 confirmed his Finnish rally champion title 2004, it is Lindholm’s 7th Finnish overall title! Sebastian Lindholm btw is to insiders better known as “Basti”. This seems a typical thing for the Grönholm clan, as Marcus Grönholm himself is referred to as “Bosse” – a nick name that no joke originates from his wife, calling him Bosse when he tries to be boss at home! Another star straight related to the Grönholm family is Marcus’ own navigator Timo Rautiainen, who is married to Marcus’ sister!

We finish off with unfortunately the nowaday’s least known rally member of the Grönholm family: Marcus’ dad, Ulf Grönholm. A major character in the Finnish championship in the 1970s with Opels, Ulf never became a big name at World level. It had nothing to do with lack of talent. In contrary his big break through should have been in 1979, when Fiat was looking for a rising Finnish star to compliment their star driver Markku Alen. It came therefore that on the Rally Finland 1979, alongside their #1 driver Markku Alen, Henri Toivonen and Ulf Grönholm were invited to drive full works Fiat 131 Abarth. Alen won as basically expected, but while Toivonen destroyed his works Fiat, Ulf Grönholm did a solid job to finish 4th, behind that year’s WRChamp Björn Waldegaard (Ford Escort) and ahead of Timo Salonen (Datsun 160J). Unfortunately a short time later Ulf Grönholm lost his life in an accident on a local Finnish rally. This was an incident that stunningly enough convinced little Marcus to never pick up rallying! He did motocross instead and soon had himself an accident that led to a knee injury bad enough that he could not continue with this sport. In fact, Marcus suffers from that injury to the day. And it was only then that Marcus decided ‘maybe rallying is not so stupid after all’!

Therefore Marcus started quite late with rallying. However he was an instant sensation. Already in Rally Finland 1989 he gave his WRC debut aged 21. And as his tool he had a Lancia Delta integrale group N, easily the leading car in any WRC category at the time. And on only his debut WRC event Marcus finished a promising 23rd overall and 5th in group N.

From here Marcus Grönholm moved on to privately entered ex-works Toyota Celicas. These cars didn’t seem very reliable and when they were, Marcus often enough found a ditch to keep the reliability record straight. Indeed it took another 4 years until Marcus had his first top10 finish at WRC level – 10th in Finland 1993. But only one year later he managed an amazing 5th overall on the same event with the same privateer car. It followed more top5 results, but as well ever again the car let him down. And that especially on those events that were most important to learn for his future. In Portugal and Catalunya 1998 both times the suspension broke on his Corolla WRC within the first 10 stages and in NZ 98 the engine let go during the 1st leg.

Nevertheless at around the same time Marcus Grönholm himself took the initiative and phoned Peugeot, once he heard they are working on a WRC program. This also many people don’t know, Peugeot never approached Grönholm, it was the other way round. Grönholm phoned Jean-Pierre Nicolas, and Nicolas gruntled in return “Well, send us your CV, then maybe we talk.”. After that Bosse was stunned when at Rally Finland 1998 Jean-Pierre Nicolas turned up to see him, the pair of them got on like a house on fire from the word go – and well, the rest is history!

Who remembers the 2000 season? The 206’s and Grönholm’s first full season. From the 2nd half they both caught up big style. Until the very end nobody wanted to believe this new guy in the new car could possibly be a title favourite, never mind what the mathematics said. He took the title and this actually is a case that makes a mockery of the many 3rd driver and rich teams discussions of recent years. Basically in 2000 Grönholm was a newcomer, like a 3rd driver, and he wasn’t paid like a potential WRChamp at all. Of course nobody ever confirms those numbers, but I strongly believe Marcus’ wages in 2000 were not even 6-digit – before Peugeot started paying him bonusses for WRC points.

But this is where we were in the introduction chapter of this Marcus Grönholm “first 100 review”. Marcus was a man of the even years. World Champion out of nowhere in his first full season in 2000, including 4 victories in Sweden, NZ, Finland & Australia.

The following odd year was just littered with bad luck. Already the start of the 2001 season was a weird one: Monte Carlo out in SS2 with a broken waterpump. This very version of waterpump was used for many, many years in the 306 Maxi, the 406 STW touring car and the 206 WRC and never ever failed! Round 2 in Sweden Bosse was out on the very first stage, the headgasket went without warning and as it later turned out for a dead stupid assembly error. Marcus added to disaster himself, crashing out of Catalunya, Safari and Corsica. Towards the end of the season Marcus could win 3 events, Finland, Australia and GB. This helped Peugeot to another makes title, but for Marcus’ personal title this came way too late.

2002 was in turn just stunning. Marcus showed a performance that quite likely makes the 2004 Sébastian Loeb show look pale. 5 of Peugeot’s 8 victories came from Marcus, Sweden, Cyprus, Finland, NZ & Australia and in 14 events Marcus had no less than 9 podium finishes – and that isn’t even counting the rather strange Argentina disqualification. 77points (under the old points system) were on Marcus’ account, the runner up in the championship had less than half that much!!!!

And 2003, an odd year and the #1 on the door, what can you say. Marcus started strongly in winning Sweden, NZ & Argentina, 3 victories in only the first 5 events. You could forgive Marcus crashing from the lead in Monte Carlo. However a fractured fuel line in the Acropolis was a dead unlucky retirement and so was the wheel bearing failure in Finland. In Australia Marcus was leading until his car slid down the inside of a hairpin, leaving the undamaged car half on the actual track but at too weird an angle to free it again. In San Remo Marcus managed to crash out on the very last stage and in GB he did so on the very first and that was that!

This surely should mean 2004 should have Marcus as the absolute title favourite. But right in contrary this is probably the worst season of his life. Peugeot has a new car and sensationally Marcus leads in the new car on 3 of the first 4 events: Monte, Sweden & NZ. However on all 3 occasions Marcus loses the lead and victory with more or less spectacular and time consuming spins. In the Acropolis Marcus admits himself having gone way too fast for the conditions, in Argentina he crashed out from the lead in a titanic battle with Carlos Sainz, in Deutschland Marcus crashes in the very first corner, in GB he has his 4th crash into retirement in only 7 events. Still the speed with a brand new and basically underdevelopped car is unbelieveable. What doesn’t help Marcus’ case is that on those events where he doesn’t make mistakes, the car lets him down. Actually, the 307 is more reliable than everybody thinks. So far easily 90% of the 307 WRC mechanical problems are only gearbox related. It however has to be said that Peugeot launched the car too early. Peugeot worked on a revolutionary new transmission. However the new transmission was impossible in reliability and still is not that reliable. Until Finland a 4-speed gearbox was used, this was only a compromise design as long as the revolutionary pre-select 5-speed unit was impossible and for the first 3 rounds the Peugeot 307 WRC was fitted with basically a road car visco centre differential rather than an active one – remember, with that Marcus lead in Monte and Sweden! And just to add to insult, when everything went right for once and Marcus won in Cyprus, he was disqualified!

So Finland is the only celebration for Marcus in 2004 so far – here he celebrated his WRC victory #16. Btw all of his 16 victories were in Peugeots. And on the Tour de Corse he now has his 100th WRC start.

Well, 100 WRC starts used to be a more exclusive club than it is now. Richard Burns went 3-digit in Finland last year, before his WRC career was prematurely ended after 104 starts. Armin Schwarz joined the frame at Rallye Deutschland earlier this year. Marcus Grönholm will be the 13th driver to have 100 WRC starts on his account. Just for the record: More exclusive but obviously extremely rare is the 150 club. More than 150 WRC starts are only achieved by Didier Auriol (151), Juha Kankkunen (162) and…. Well, Carlos, he is the most successful WRC driver of all time and I believe he is going to have an unbreakable record soon. Corsica will be Carlos Sainz’s WRC start #193. He needs 5 starts in 2005 and Carlos will be the only driver ever to start in 200 WRC events – or anything close to that for that matter!

For Marcus Grönholm, when he fills his 100 starts, he will not look too bad in all of the statistics. Apart from super-super star King Carlos, Bosse is the only current driver in the top10 rating of the most successful rally drivers of all time. Currently 57 finishes in 99 starts is something he can and should improve. 308 WRC points in 99 starts however is impressive. Virtually every driver who has more career points, collected points under the very old points system that awarded 20points for a win – double the figure of today – Marcus didn’t!

And Bosse is close to move up the all time top10 fast! Here it is:
1st – Carlos Sainz – 26 victories
2nd – Colin McRae – 25
3rd – Tommi Mäkinen – 24
4th – Juha Kankkunen – 23
5th – Didier Auriol – 20
6th – Markku Alen – 19
7th – Hannu Mikkola – 18
8th – Massimo Biasion – 17
9th – Björn Waldegaard – 16 (420points, 95starts, 61finishes)
10th – Marcus Grönholm – 16 (308points, 99starts, 57finishes)