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  Sunday, 6 October, 2002, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
Gronholm the man again
Marcus Gronholm in his Peugeot
Gronholm has established himself as a flexible driver

One wonders what might have happened if Marcus Gronholm had actually pursued the first love of his life.

At the age of 13, the Finn began a fledgling career in motocross which would last five years before he had to quit because of a knee injury.

Out of misery would come eventual glory as he immediately made a move to rally driving, making his debut in a Ford Escort in 1987.

Rally driving was in the blood - his father Ulf had been one of the best in Finland during the 1970s - and the younger Gronholm immediately showed his promise by becoming Finnish junior champion in 1988.

  Marcus Gronholm
Born: 5/2/1968
First title: 1988 Finnish Junior
Rally Champion
World championships: 2000 and 2002
Personal details: Married with three children

His father was killed in an accident practising for the Hankiralli in 1980 but that tragedy did not dissuade Gronholm Jr from following in his dad's footsteps.

From 1989 through to 1998, Gronholm would make 25 starts in the world rally championship - mostly in privately-run Toyotas - before finally being awarded a two year contract with Peugeot.

During that apprenticeship period, a very important partnership was formed.

Timo Rautiainen co-drove with Gronholm for a year at the start of the 1990s and then returned in May 1995.

A year after that, Gronholm began to scale down his other work commitments - he had been working as a farmer - and concentrate entirely on his driving.

With all those factors beginning to fall into place, Gronholm was rapidly becoming the finished article and world title glory was not far away.

In 2000, he became world champion for the first time after winning four rallies - his performances also aided Peugeot's claiming of the Manufacturer's Championship.

Marcus Gronholm, the world rally champion
Gronholm - had worked his way to the top
The following year was something of an anti-climax for the Finn - several retirements damaged his early chances and despite recovering his form by the end, he could do no better than finish fourth in the overall standings.

Despite the loss of the title, Peugeot remained convinced that Gronholm was still their man and they extended his contract to 2003 (he has since signed an extension to 2006 and hopes to retire then).

Perhaps that confidence inspired Gronholm to his performance this season.

Wins in Sweden, Cyprus and Finland - his third consecutive victory in his homeland - pushed him to the verge of success.

And when Richard Burns crashed out of the Rally of New Zealand, Gronholm's recapture of the world title was all but assured.

In his native country, Gronholm's achievements are revered, although there is also a level of expectation.

Despite its relatively small size, Finland has consistently provided a long list of top-class rally drivers, from Hannu Mikkola, through Juha Kankkunen through to Tommi Makinen, the four-time world champion.

Gronholm has proved to be a worthy successor to his throne.

World Rally Championship
This year's rallies:

TOP TEAMS AND DRIVERS

 
 
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