Armed with an uprated Subaru Impreza WRC prepared by Prodrive and backed by Portugal’s tourism authority, Gronholm and long-term co-driver Timo Rautiainen made a significant impact.
They ran as high as second overall and were fourth at the completion of day one after setting a sequence of top-three stage times. But it all went awry for the Finns when they crashed early on day two and retired.
“At the beginning of the stage I was maybe a little bit excited to go fast and try to do a good time,” said the two-time world champion. “I went a little bit wide in a left-hander and hit a tree with the back of the car. We went off the road, rolled over once, and landed back on our wheels. I started the engine, got back on the road and did maybe five kilometres before we started to have problems with overheating and had to stop.”
Gronholm admitted that his time away from the WRC had contributed to his accident: “I had not been rallying for a long time so starting behind Seb [Loeb] and trying to do the same times, hey, it’s not that easy. Sure, we were on the pace on the first day but returning to the WRC so suddenly, and with a new car, it doesn’t all come together immediately. I made a small mistake, that’s it.”
Despite hopes of more runs in the Prodrive Subaru, Gronholm’s next appearance in the WRC wasn’t until 2010 when he drove a Ford Focus in Sweden in 2010. It also served as the Finn’s last appearance in the global series to date.