Day 2am: Gronholm forced out

Marcus Gronholm's title hopes have been dealt a huge blow after the Peugeot ace was forced to retire from his home event, Rally Finland, after his car sufered a suspension failure on the infamous Ouninpohja stage

Day 2am: Gronholm forced out

The world champion had looked set to take control of the rally on the first three of this morning's four stages. He set the fastest time on both SS11 and 12, and had edged in front of Ford ace Markko Martin to take the lead of the rally.

But the second run through the Ouninpohja stage (SS14) changed all that. The stage is known as one of the most dramatic in the entire championship, and the 33.24km of road has completely altered the shape of the event.

Gronholm was flying at the time, and looked set to easily claim the fastest time, until his trouble. It is still unclear exactly what went wrong with the 206, although Gronholm maintains that he didn't hit anything. Whatever the cause, the Peugeot's suspension failed, and eventualy caused the front right wheel to be ripped off the car. Although Gronholm was able to continue to the end of the stage, albeit losing over a minute and a half in the process, the damage was severe enough for him to pull out of the event.

The Finn's problems place Martin back in the lead of the rally, although the Estonian cannot afford to relax. Richard Burns closed in significantly on Ouninpohja, where Martin suffered electronics trouble, and is now less than 20s behind. The Englishman has looked comfortable in his Peugeot all morning, adding a stage victory on SS13 to demonstrate his potential to snatch victory from Martin.

Colin McRae's impressive fastest time on the eventful SS14 allowed him to pull well clear of fifth place Petter Solberg. The Citroen ace is just under 20s behind Burns, and will be out to put on a charge to claim best-of-British honours.

Rally Finland has long been dominated by Scandinavian drivers, but it's now looking inevitable that an 'outsider' will claim victory this year after a multitude of problems hit the leading Finn's over the morning.

As well as Gronholm's retirements, Ford ace Mikko Hirvonen was forced out after SS11 with a turbo problem, Harri Rovanpera retired after crashing on SS12and Toni Gardemeister retired the sole surviving Skoda Fabia with engine damage at the start of SS13.

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