Day 1am: Gronholm holds power

Reigning world rally champion Marcus Gronholm holds a comfortable lead of almost half a minute after the first three stages of the Monte Carlo Rally, leaving Citroen star Colin McRae and Rally GB winner Petter Solberg to head the chasing pack

Day 1am: Gronholm holds power

Below freezing temperatures left ice on the in the French Alps, but it was the snow knocked onto the asphalt by the leading runners that left Gronholm's rivals trailing in his wake. The Finn took SS1 by just over four seconds, but it was his SS2 performance that really moved him into a commanding position as he took at least 30 seconds off every other driver.

His run of stage wins was ended by Sebastien Loeb's Xsara on SS3, but the Frenchman remains the best part of a minute behind the world champion, who has never come close to winning the Monte in the past.

Tommi Makinen has won the past four rallies in the Principality, but the former champion stalled at the start of SS1 and lost a bunch of time. He fought back in typical 'maximum attack' style, only to lose his front brakes - and over a minute - on SS3 and needs a miracle if he's to make it five in a row.

Another driver in trouble was pre-event favourite Gilles Panizzi, who was handicapped by a 60-second penalty incurred for a recce offence that took place before the rally even started. The Frenchman's woes continued on SS1 when he tried to cut a corner and damaged two wheels. The problem could not be remedied until after SS2, by which time he was over three minutes down on his rally-leading team-mate.

Peugeot's other works driver Richard Burns had a quiet opening morning, and lies towards the tail of the points scoring positions, which this year go down to eighth.

Carlos Sainz started his Citroen career with the fourth fastest time on SS1, but thereafter the Spaniard failed to match the speed of his team-mates and has slipped out of contention at the front. His former team, Ford, isn't having the best of events either, with Markko Martin the best placed Focus in sixth.

Former world champion Didier Auriol is now the sole Octavia in the event on his Skoda debut after team-mate Toni Gardemeister retired with engine troubles seven kilometers into SS2. Auriol is 11th, while Armin Schwarz is the top Hyundai driver in 13th.

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Day 1: Gronholm's 'surprise' lead

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