Leg 1: Burns heads Peugeot charge

Richard Burns heads into tonight's final superspecial with what already looks like a commanding lead in Rally Finland. The Englishman has pushed his Peugeot just 12.3 seconds clear of his Finnish team mates Harri Rovanpera and Marcus Gronholm

Leg 1: Burns heads Peugeot charge

He has done so with a masterful piece of controlled driving that again shows just how good the reigning champion is on this most technical event for a driver.

Peugeot's rivals are punch drunk tonight having been comprehensively annihilated by the French cars, Petter Solberg the 'best of the rest' but almost a minute off the podium. At times the French team has been half a second a kilometre quicker than its rivals and the service area has seen many furrowed brow. "I can't see where they're getting that advantage from," admitted Subaru boss David Lapworth. "More worryingly, I can't see where any of us are going to find that kind of extra pace."

Gronholm's performance may have been thwarted slightly by running first on the road today and having to brush a light coating of loose gravel off the otherwise hard and smooth gravel roads but this was probably only a minor irritation that can be overcome tomorrow. Burns admitted, "This is quite typical. I usually get off to a good start and then the Finns come back at me as the event progresses."

Should he manage to stave off their advances, however, he will become only the third driver from outside Scandinavia to win this event.

Solberg slipped past Ford's Colin McRae for fourth on the day's penultimate stage and the battle for the minor placings is becoming quite intense.

On an event where any error tends to be both spectacular and costly there have been few retirements among the top contenders. Juuso Pykalisto was the early star of the show, Peugeot's young colt running a solid fourth over the first five stages before transmission problems halted him.

Since then the event has lost Francois Duval who broke his rebuilt Ford's suspension on a rock, the Belgian having discovered to his cost that Finland takes no prisoners during the pre-event test. Also absent without leave is Francois Delecour whose new Mitsubishi Lancer WRC2 also broke its transmission on today's final forest stage before the return to Killeri and a repeat of last night's superspecial.

At stake for the fastest aggregate time over the two Killeri stages is a pair of Ebel watches. Burns was fastest last night and so a repeat performance would net a nice bonus prize.

However, while Peugeot eyes up the gold and silverware the rest of the pack will not sleep easily in their beds tonight. First up tomorrow are a pair of daunting stages, Talviainen and Ouninpohja. The first, at 25.74kms, is being run for the first time in this direction so everyone's notes are new.

Check out the times from this evening's superspecial by clicking on the link below.

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Leg 1 am: Burns edges out lead

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