Day 1: Gronholm hits trouble

Marcus Gronholm's bid for a fourth straight victory Rally Australia victory ended on the first day of the event, when the Finn slid his Peugeot into a ditch whilst leading, losing 16 minutes. Citroen star Sebastien Loeb ended the day in the lead, although Petter Solberg is just 4.2s behind

Day 1: Gronholm hits trouble

Gronholm was comfortably in the lead of the event, but went off the road mid-way through the stage. The Finn explained that he simply got on the power too early coming out of a tight hairpin, and slid backwards down a bank. He then had to wait for marshals to come and help extricate him from the ditch.

"It's very stupid," said Gronholm. "I am so annoyed. I have never done anything like this before. It is not good for the championship - maybe we have lost it. I think so."

Gronholm's car was undamaged aside from a cracked bumper, and he went on to set the fourth fastest time on SS9, but his hopes of claiming points now rest on the reliability of others.

This gave the lead to Loeb, who surprised himself with his strong form over the morning. Solberg put in a concerted bid to depose the Frenchman, with the fastest time on SS7 and the joint-quickest on SS8, but Loeb responded with a fastest time of his own on SS9 to head into the day's final short Superspecial stage with a slender lead.

"I think I am able to win the rally, but it will be difficult," said Loeb. "There are still two long days and Petter is pushing hard."

The ever-reliable Richard Burns has moved up to third, with his team-mates troubles further boosting his championship fortunes. The Briton put in a solid performance despite running first on the road, ending the day 38.6s off the lead. A better track position should allow him to push harder tomorrow.

Tommi Makinen enbded the day in fourth position, despite stiff opposition from the Citroen of Carlos Sainz and Ford star Markko Martin, making a late push to recover from time he lost on SS3. The Estonian edged ahead of his Spanish rival for fifth after SS9, although just 10.9s covers the three drivers.

Colin McRae battled back from gearbox trouble to finish seventh, with Harri Rovanpera rounding out the points in eighth, nearly a minute clear of future Peugeot team-mate Freddy Loix.

The final stage of the day is a second run through the 2.45km Perth Superspecial.

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Day 1am: Gronholm builds early lead

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