Day 1 round-up: Burns pushes Gronholm hard

Marcus Gronholm has lived up to his pre-rally tag of favourite by leading throughout Friday's opening leg of the Neste Rally Finland, but World Championship leader Richard Burns has stayed in the wheeltracks of the Finn's Peugeot and goes into Saturday's leg perfectly placed to attack

Day 1 round-up: Burns pushes Gronholm hard

The pair have never been as much as 10 seconds apart on Friday, while third placed Harri Rovanpera is almost half a minute off the lead battle, such has been their pace.

"They've been taking some incredible risks," observed fourth placed Colin McRae. "It's fine if you get away with it, but this event is unforgiving and doesn't give you a second chance."

McRae needs to ensure that he scores points if he, or Ford, is to capitalise on the current position, while Burns has to push hard if he wants to retain his series lead into the next few events. If he finishes second to Gronholm he will find himself tied with the Finn, but victory would double his points lead as the series heads into the relatively unknown Cyprus Rally next month.

Behind the lead battle Carlos Sainz has been reduced to a test driver after his Ford stopped for five minutes on SS2 with an electrical fault and he dropped to 110th place. The third Ford of Petter Solberg is out, the Norwegian crashing with two stages to go today.

British Champion Tapio Laukkanen has played himself in steadily to many observers' surprise.

The new SEAT Cordobas of Didier Auriol and Toni Gardemeister have struggled today, both suffering engine problems early on, but Auriol then having a frighteningly erratic handling car during the afternoon.

"It's virtually undriveable," he admitted.

Other news suggests that Freddy Loix may have earned a shock reprieve and will soon sign a fresh contract with Mitsubishi. But there are growing doubts that Auriol will agree to the second year of his SEAT deal while faced with tempting offers from both Peugeot and the incoming Citroen team for 2001.

For Leg One results and live timings, click here.

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