Marcus Grönholm

Date of Birth:05 Feb 68
FIA Championship Titles:2000, 2002
World Championships:2
WRC Rally Starts:152
WRC Rally Wins:30

World Rally Champions rarely appear overnight and Gronholm - the last Finn to win the title - is a classic example of how practice makes perfect.
Gronholm’s first WRC rally was his home event, the 1000 Lakes, in 1989. Over the next ten years he contested 27 more World Championship rallies, in a variety of cars, without getting a podium. Luckily, however, things were going better for him in his domestic series, and four Finnish Group A titles (in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1998) brought him to the attention of a number of WRC manufacturer teams.
The turning point for Gronholm came relatively late, in 1999, when he was signed to the Peugeot team and settled into the agile Peugeot 206 WRC. His first WRC win came in 2000 on one of his favourite events, the Swedish Rally, and after four more victories that year he was crowned World Champion. In 2002 he did it again, winning in Sweden, Cyprus, Finland, New Zealand and Australia.
In 2004 Peugeot switched to the bulkier 307 WRC, in which Gronholm scored only three victories throughout 2004 and 2005. In 2006 he joined Ford and embarked on another successful period, this time with the Focus RS WRC.
Over the next two seasons he won twelve more WRC rallies, enabling Ford to take the manufacturers title in both years. In the Drivers’ Championships, however, he was narrowly beaten by Sebastian Loeb on both occasions; in 2006 he lost out by a single point while in 2007 he was just four adrift.
Gronholm retired at the end of the 2007 season, saying he wanted to stop while he still had the speed to win rallies. But he has since started two Word Championship rallies - both on a one-off basis.
He was first lured out of retirement in 2009 to drive a Subaru Impreza WRC in Rally Portugal. On that occasion he crashed out while in fourth place. He fared better on the 2010 Rally Sweden when he was reunited with a Ford Focus RS WRC. While an electrical problem and a lack of testing dropped him outside the top-20, he produced some Gronholm magic to set a fastest time on the 14km Sagen - his favourite stage of the championship.

Marcus Grönholm, nicknamed 'Bosse' was born in Kauniainen, Finland, on February 5, 1968 to a rally-driving father, Ulf: a two-time Finnish champion.

But it wasn't really Ulf who led him into rallying: instead it was his cousin, yet another multiple Finnish Rally Champion – they obviously run in the family – Sebastian Lindholm.

With most of Finland's scant five million population concentrated in the capital of Helsinki, Marcus's rural upbringing gave him access to miles and miles of gravel roads and farm tracks: the basic reason why such a small nation has dominated rallying since the sport was invented.

Before he could reach the gas pedal, Marcus knew how to drive a car – and the machines around the farm meant that he got to regularly exercise his mechanical skills as well.

Tragically, Ulf was killed practising for the Hankiralli in 1981, when Marcus was just 13. At the time, Marcus was obsessed with motocross, even though his gangly frame was hardly suited to it. As it happened, his promising motocross career was cut short by a knee injury – which he still feels twinges from even now.

So Marcus only turned to cars comparatively late in life, finally getting his international break in the 1990s, when he had occasional outings as part of the Toyota factory team in Finland.

On his first factory drive, in 1992, he was fastest on the first stage – and then went off. That became a recurring theme in the early years. His best result in Finland with a Toyota would be fourth in 1996, although he was heading for third with the new Corolla WRC in 1997 before a wheel broke. He set the most fastest stage times of anyone in Finland the following year, although he only finished seventh after losing some time in a ditch.

He's made amends since: with seven victories there to his name, Marcus is still the most successful driver in the history of Rally Finland, jointly with Hannu Mikkola.

The one thing that was never in doubt was Marcus's raw speed, and that was what led Peugeot to sign him in 1999, as the French squad returned with the game-changing 206 WRC halfway through the season. Team boss Corrado Provera famously described him as their "Koh-I-Noor": once the largest and most precious diamond in the world. Marcus repaid their faith by winning the title in his first full year of the WRC: 2000, when he was already 32.

The next season wasn't quite as successful due to mechanical problems, but he was back on championship-winning form in 2002, cementing his unique relationship with the 206 WRC. "When I get into the car on a gravel rally, I know that if nothing goes wrong, we'll win," is how he described it.

The 206 was replaced by the 307: a rally car that was based on a coupe cabriolet road car with which he developed a love/hate relationship. He regarded the engine as sublime, but the gearbox not quite of the same pedigree. Such was his superstition he actually talked about changing his hotel room on one occasion that he was allocated room number 307, on the grounds that the room would probably break...

But even the wayward 307 gave Marcus some of his finest hours. He won Rally Finland in 2004 (one of just three victories for the car in two years) despite Peugeot's controversial four-speed gearbox losing one of its ratios. "Tell them to forget the four-speed box: we just need three gears now to win," quipped Marcus darkly afterwards.

In fact, Marcus's quotes out of the car are just as famous as his flamboyant skills inside it. The most memorable soundbite was almost certainly Turkey 2004, following a bizarre incident when he ran over the remains of a road sign. The metal post went straight through the floor of the Peugeot and into co-driver Timo Rautiainen's seat.

"We had to stop because some stone or something came through the seat and up into the arse of Timo," Marcus earnestly told the crowd of waiting journalists at service, accompanying his explanation with a particularly graphic hand gesture...

Or there was the time, of course, when Marcus was stopped by a particularly officious policeman on Rally Great Britain in Wales, who wanted to inform him that he couldn't drive on the public highway with just three wheels. "But I can drive," Marcus pointed out, with irrefutable logic. "I've just driven here. And I'm having the last word."

Marcus believes that anything is possible, and that's why Ford pounced when Peugeot announced that it was pulling out of rallying at the end of 2005. The partnership with Ford got off to a fairy tale start. At the start of the 2006 season, Marcus won the legendary Monte Carlo Rally: the oldest and most prestigious rally in the WRC, which he absolutely hates.

By the end of the year he had lost the drivers' title to Sebastien Loeb by just one point. But Ford had won the manufacturers' title for the first time since 1979 – a success they went on to repeat the following year.

In 2007, the intense battle with Loeb continued, with the Frenchman – the most successful driver in the history of the sport – saying that he had never come across a rival who was so fast and committed as Marcus Grönholm. In fact, Marcus is second only to Loeb himself when it comes to the record for the highest number of world rally wins. That's just one of the remarkable achievements that Marcus's speed has brought him: he's also set more fastest stage times than Colin McRae, for example.

The only big mistake that Marcus made, by his own admission, was retiring from the WRC too early, at the end of the 2007 season. His last victory for Ford in New Zealand that year was electrifying: at the time the closest winning margin in the history of the sport, with just 0.3 seconds separating first and second.

The next chapter in Marcus’ career opened when he moved from making occasional appearances in rallycross to a fully committed season in the emerging US series, Global Rallycross, in 2012. As a lead driver for the Best-Buy Mobile backed Ford Team, run by fellow Scandinavian Andreas Eriksson and the Olsberg MSE squad.

Marcus took the series by storm, winning everything he started from heats to finals in the first two events at Charlotte and Texas. However, fate cruelly intervened at one of the moments he might have relished when his friend but competitive nemesis, Sebastien Loeb, made a one-off appearance at the X-Games rallycross event in Los Angeles. In a practice accident, Marcus suffered significant injuries and spent a week in hospital in LA recuperating and was unable to test his series leading pace against his WRC rival.

Since this time, Marcus has focused less on competitive racing and rallying, and more on developing a portfolio of other related interests, including filming work with motoring television programmes, working with automotive manufacturers testing cars, and advising manufacturers on their sporting strategies for utilising motorsport effectively in their marketing programmes.