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Last Updated: Friday, 16 November 2007, 17:48 GMT
Gronholm crashes out in Ireland
Marcus Gronholm
Gronholm's crash has boosted Sebastien Loeb's title chances
World Rally Championship leader Marcus Gronholm is out of the Rally Ireland after crashing on stage four on Friday.

Gronholm was taken to hospital after losing consciousness following the crash but he was later released after being examined by doctors.

The Finn's co-driver Timo Rautianinen was unhurt in the crash.

Sebastien Loeb, who trails Gronholm by four points, led Dani Sordo by 11.2 seconds after Friday's action with Jari-Matti Latvala 88 seconds adrift.

Latvala's Finnish compatriot Mikko Hirvonen lies fourth, a further 24.8 seconds behind, with Petter Solberg in fifth and Guy Wilks the top Briton in sixth.

BP Ford's Gronholm hit a wall in the fourth stage near Sligo while running third behind Citroen team-mates Loeb and Sordo.

"The accident happened near the finish on a wide, right corner," said Gronholm after he had been released from hospital in Sligo.

My neck is sore but otherwise I'm OK

Marcus Gronholm

"I braked for the bend but it was extremely slippery and the car skated off the road.

"I managed to turn it sideways before hitting a stone wall hard. It was a big, big impact because the car stopped immediately and both wheels on my side of the car were ripped off.

"We were taken to hospital where we were both given a scan but that showed no problems. My neck is sore but otherwise I'm OK."

Gronholm acknowledged that Loeb is now in pole position to win the championship but he insisted that he would "not give up hope yet".

The crash handed the advantage in the title race to the Frenchman with only the Rally of Great Britain to follow.

Loeb, whose car suffered a broken left rear suspension before the day's start, said conditions were difficult.

He said: "There is a lot of mud everywhere, so I just try to keep a good feeling.

"If I go too slowly I lose confidence and then I'm not able to drive. So I try to keep a good rhythm."

Gronholm could resume under the SupeRally format on Saturday but the crash is a massive blow to his hopes of bowing out of the sport with a third world title.

606: DEBATE

Henning Solberg hit a tree on stage eight to force his retirement as the drivers struggled with the blind junctions and mud on the road.

Dungannon driver Kris Meeke's challenge is over after he suffered an engine failure on stage five while Eugene Donnelly was also among the retirements.

Meeke was a superb third in Thursday's opening super-special stage at Stormont but after doing well to remain in the top six after four stages, he then hit trouble to drop way out of contention.

A devastated Meeke said after stage five that he was unable to go above 50mph and his rally was over.

Tim McNulty is top Irishman in ninth place after day one - seven minutes and 56 seconds off the pace.

Completing the top 10, just four seconds behind McNulty, is another home driver, Gareth McHale.


Rally Ireland positions after Friday's stages
1st Sebastien Loeb (France, Citroen C4) 1:33:15.9
2nd Dani Sordo (Spain, Citroen C4) 1:33:27.1
3rd Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland, Ford Focus) 1:34:44.3
4th Mikki Hirvonen (Finland, Ford Focus) 1:35:09.1
5th Petter Solberg (Norway, Subaru Impeza) 1:35:35.1
6th Guy Wilks (Britain, Mitsubishi) 1:37:29.5
7th Manfred Stohl (Austria, Citroen) 1:37:57.8
8th Matthew Wilson (Britain, Ford) 1:4:01.3
9th Tim McNulty (Ireland, Subaru Impreza) 1:41:11.8
10th Gareth McHale (Ireland, Ford Focus) 1:41:15.7



SEE ALSO
Gronholm takes Rally Ireland lead
15 Nov 07 |  Rallying
Loeb and Gronholm face Irish duel
15 Nov 07 |  Rallying
Jordan lauds Rally Ireland impact
13 Nov 07 |  Rallying
Irish welcome World Rally stars
11 Nov 07 |  Rallying
Loeb crash damages title chances
27 Oct 07 |  Rallying


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