Gron­holm eyes come­back

Autosport (UK) - - PIT + PADDOCK - DAVID EVANS

For a Finn, he’s as close to a Swede as they come. Born close to the bor­der, Mar­cus Gron­holm is a nat­u­ral Swedish speaker. He named his restau­rant ‘Sa­gen’ after his favourite stage in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship… in Swe­den. And now he’s eye­ing a pos­si­ble WRC re­turn in a Toy­ota Yaris WRC at next year’s Rally Swe­den.

Had the stars aligned, two-time world cham­pion Gron­holm would have cel­e­brated his 50th birth­day this year at the wheel of a fac­tory Yaris WRC, but ul­ti­mately Toy­ota Ga­zoo Rac­ing couldn’t make it hap­pen. TGR team prin­ci­pal Tommi Maki­nen is keen to put that right in 2019.

“It would be fan­tas­tic to see some­body like Mar­cus in the car,” said Maki­nen. “He could be very fast. We need this kind of story – it’s good for the peo­ple and the fans to have this kind of thing to talk about.”

Five-time Swe­den win­ner Gron­holm (left of pic, with Maki­nen) told Au­tosport he was dis­ap­pointed to miss out on a Yaris seat in Fe­bru­ary. “This year it would have been fan­tas­tic to do Swe­den with so much snow; I would have been start­ing in the per­fect place on the road – I could have been back in the game,” he said.

Gron­holm is in­ter­ested in re­vis­it­ing the dis­cus­sions for next year, es­pe­cially after he drove the Toy­ota Yaris WRC for the first time at Jy­vaskyla’s Harju street stage of last year’s Rally Fin­land.

“Harju was good,” said Gron­holm. “I only did a five-kilo­me­tre test in the car be­fore I jumped in and drove it, and the last time I did the stage I was ac­tu­ally quite close to the best time. I was happy with that be­cause I was not driv­ing like crazy. I was think­ing, ‘I can­not smash Tommi’s car when I have to give it back…’

“I would like to go to Swe­den again next year. And if you prom­ise big [snow] banks and heavy snow, I will be back in the game!”

Sainz back to Dakar Rally

Gron­holm is not the only for­mer WRC cham­pion look­ing at more com­pe­ti­tion next sea­son, with Car­los Sainz ex­pected to sign with X-raid to de­fend his 2018 Dakar vic­tory at the wheel of a Mini. The Spa­niard will be joined by fel­low for­mer Peu­geot driv­ers Stephane Peter­hansel and Cyril De­spres. Sainz (be­low) is ex­pected to make his de­but in the Ger­man team’s buggy in next month’s Morocco Rally.

Next year’s Dakar reg­u­la­tions have con­firmed a rule change down­siz­ing the re­stric­tor (from 38mm to 37mm) and re­duc­ing the power out­put from petrolengined cars such as Toy­ota’s Hilux.

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