Day 1: Gronholm's tiny lead

Three-time Swedish Rally winner Marcus Gronholm leads the 2005 event at the end of leg one, but his advantage over second-placed Petter Solberg is just 0.2s after a day of remarkably close competition. Sebastien Loeb, who lost ground with an error on SS4, and Mitsubishi's Gigi Galli also remain in contention for victory

Day 1: Gronholm's tiny lead

The first day of the rally ran relatively smoothly despite earlier fears that a lack of snow in the Karlstad region might force the event's cancellation. Overnight temperatures were low enough for a thick layer of compacted ice to form over the stages, easing fears that the cars' studded tyres would be wrecked if the snow shortage resulted in mostly gravel stages. Privateers running behind the factory cars complained that by the time they passed through the later stages, the route was around 50 percent gravel, but the lead contenders had no problems until SS6 this afternoon, where the greatest challenge for the drivers was keeping their tyres intact.

Solberg and Loeb battled for the rally lead initially, with Gronholm lacking confidence in his Peugeot 307 WRC and sitting in fourth place for the first two stages, behind local star Daniel Carlsson in his Bozian Peugeot. By SS3 Gronholm was feeling more comfortable, whilst Solberg's ill-advised tinkering with his Subaru's set-up left him rather off the pace. The result was that Gronholm took the rally lead heading for the lunchtime service, but only by 0.1s from Loeb and 0.2s from Solberg.

SS4 saw Gronholm easing away from the field, only for Solberg to strike back over the next two stages and move back into the lead after Torntorp 2, again by the tiny margin of just 0.1s. It wasn't quite over yet though, as Gronholm outpaced his rival on the short superspecial at the Hagfors rallycross track and secured the overnight lead by 0.2s.

"Today I enjoyed the third stage," said Gronholm. "The rest has been very difficult. The grip is changing all of the time - I have to say I didn't really enjoy the rest of the day."

Solberg said he had driven relatively conservately today and was saving himself for the rest of the rally.

"It's been a very interesting day but the best is yet to come," he said. "Once I got the feeling from the car and the conditions everything was working for me. I'm still not attacking, but it will happen in the next two days."

Loeb dropped away from the lead battle on the afternoon's first stage, overshooting a junction and falling to fourth behind the superb Galli. Although this is the Italian's sixth Swedish Rally, it's his first attempt at the event in WRC machinery. Galli's fastest stage time on SS6 was the first of his career, and another demonstration of the progress made by Mitsubishi over the winter. Loeb soon retook Galli's third place however, and is feeling confident for the remainder of the rally as he will no longer be running first on the road.

"I'm the delighted with the way the day has gone, this is really more than I expected," said Loeb. "When I saw the weather this morning I was very happy."

The reigning champion pointed out that he may well have been leading the event had he not slid off on SS4.

"I had to reverse and we dropped 15s, and if you look at the lead he only has 12.5s (advantage on us)," said Loeb.

Citroen's Francois Duval eased past Markko Martin for fifth this afternoon, although Martin was beginning to feel more comfortable in his Peugeot 307 by the end of the leg and was optimistic that he could get the car more to his liking for Saturday's action.

Henning Solberg was the best of the Fords until a puncture on SS6 dropped him outside the top ten. His team-mate Toni Gardemeister was tremendously unhappy with the handling of his Focus this morning but improved to seventh by the end of the day, ahead of Harri Rovanpera - Mitsubishi's notional lead driver outpaced by his team-mate for the second rally in a row.

The three Skoda drivers have been evenly matched and close to the pace all day, although a penalty for being late into service after stopping to change a wheel forced Jani Paasonen out of the top ten. DTM champion Mattias Ekstrom is the best of the Fabia runners at the end of leg two, just outside the points in ninth.

Carlsson's hopes of a shock top three finish ended early when he hit a rock on SS3 and deranged his front suspension, although he managed to continue to the service area and now runs 13th.

Subaru's new drivers both made it to the end of the leg despite their inexperience on snow. Chris Atkinson visited a ditch on SS1 but once into his stride proved quicker than team-mate Stephane Sarrazin.

If the shortage of snow is to cause any serious problems for the rally organisers, then it will be on leg two that the trouble arises. Tomorrow's stages are the furthest south, and although a very clear and cold night is in prospect, no snow is forecast so the tyre situation could be marginal - especially as the stages are all run twice.

Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot 307) 58m20.8s
Petter Solberg (Subaru Impreza) 58m21.0s
Sebastien Loeb (Citroen Xsara) 58m31.0s
Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi Lancer) 58m39.7s
Francois Duval (Citroen Xsara) 58m48.8s
Markko Martin (Peugeot 307) 58m57.7s
Toni Gardemeister (Ford Focus) 59m18.2s
Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi Lancer) 59m19.1s
Mattias Ekstrom (Skoda Fabia) 59m24.6s
Janne Tuohino (Skoda Fabia) 59m27.9s

Henning Solberg (Ford Focus) 59m28.7s
Roman Kresta (Ford Focus) 59m30.0s
Jani Paasonen (Skoda Fabia) 59m47.6s
Chris Atkinson (Subaru Impreza) 1h00m21.7s
Stephane Sarrazin (Subaru Impreza) 1h00m57.7s
Anthony Warmbold (Ford Focus) 1h01m08.2s

SS6: Solberg back ahead

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