Day 1am: Gronholm leads

Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm has taken a commanding lead in this weekend's Telstra Rally Australia to lead the event by 16.8s over Citroen's Sebastien Loeb after the first four stages. Subaru's Petter Solberg and Ford's Markko Martin have both retired from the event

Day 1am: Gronholm leads

Obviously bolstered by his victory on the opening stage of the event, Gronholm began his day on a high, taking the first two stages of the morning to eke out a lead of 10.8s over Solberg.

The battle between the two failed to materialise, though, for on the third stage of the day Solberg hit a rock and broke the steering arm on his Subaru forcing him out of the event. Click HERE for separate story.

"It's too bad, I didn't want to end the season like this, but that's just how it is sometimes," he said.

With Solberg out of the way Loeb began his battle for the lead and took the next stages from Gronholm, despite the Frenchman's role as road-sweeper today.

Harri Rovanpera is giving Peugeot an extra boost with third place overall. The Finn is in somewhat of a no-man's land, though, for Loeb is nearly 30s in front while Ford's Francois Duval is 22s adrift in fourth spot.

While Duval will be looking to rein in Rovanpera, he first has to deal with Subaru's Mikko Hirvonen who is piling the pressure on the Belgian in fifth spot. The Finn came within a second of Duval on SS4, but the threat from behind was enough to spur the Belgian into action on SS5 where he posted a time over three seconds quicker than Hirvonen.

Meanwhile, Duval's team-mate Markko Martin retired from the event before the rally proper even began. The Estonian suffered engine problems on Thursday night's event-opening superspecial. The Ford engineers had just 10 minutes to right the car but failed to get him back on the road and so came to an end Martin's bid to wrest second spot from Solberg in the drivers' championship.

Ford's Antony Warmbold is in sixth spot overall, but a massive 3m48s off Gronholm's pace. Production class champion elect Alister McRae is seventh while rival Toshihiro Arai is eighth in the Subaru Impreza.

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