WRC - Rally Finland day 1

As the hazy sunlight rises above the Finnish forests, it's crunch time in the World Rally Championship. Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm holds a clear championship lead and his 206 has been the best car all season. Ford and Subaru know they won't be able to challenge on the two tarmac rounds left in the championship, so they have to beat Peugeot on the three remaining gravel rounds, starting in Finland. The fightback must start here

WRC - Rally Finland day 1

As championship leader, Gronholm is the first to set off on the stages. He's fast, committed, but he's running on loose gravel, which should slow him down. By the time his rivals tackle the stages, the roads will be swept, more grip will be found. They have to push now.

But they can't. They can't match Gronholm, and they can't match the other Peugeots. The teams have been testing, they've been working, and they've been improving. But so has Peugeot. And Peugeot has improved more. The championship is slipping away.

And it's getting worse. The Peugeot's are getting faster, pulling away further from the opposition. By the end of Special Stage 6, rally leader Richard Burns is 45s ahead of the fastest non-Peugeot of Colin McRae. It's a humiliating lead. It's a crushing lead.

The mood in the Peugeot camp is jovial, but all the other teams are looking glum. Drivers stare at the scoreboard, trying to figure out how on earth they're that much slower. They might not know why, but they do know that they cannot win the Rally Finland. And, although they won't admit it, they now know they cannot win the championship.

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