Leg 1: Gronholm makes his mark

Richard Burns now has just one more chance to get onto the top step of the podium before he finally hands over his World Championship crown to Peugeot team leader Marcus Gronholm. The Brit had just passed Petter Solberg to take second place on the sixth stage of today's first full day of rally action in Oz when the clutch packed up and left him stuck mid-stage.

Leg 1: Gronholm makes his mark

With the TV chopper beaming live pictures back to Rally HQ there was no escape from the eye in the sky for Burns but it was maye a good thing that it was all a silent movie as the in-car language was probably a touch raw...

After last night's storm of biblical proportions that left parts of Perth battered and bruised and the Langley Park superspecial under a foot of water for most of the morning, conditions in the forests were distinctly damp. This, however, played right into Gronholm's hands. "I'm praying for rain," he joked before the start on Thursday and last night the message got through. With the 'cleaning' effect of the ball-bearing surface negated by the conditions, Gronholm was clearly on top of his game and stomped into the lead after Solberg had held the advantage for the first two stages of the event.

Solberg won the opening superspecial on Thursday night but, while he held his lead after the first forest stage it was Freddy Loix who claimed the first real stage win of the rally for Hyundai. Sadly it wasn't to last and the Belgian was all too soon on the retirements list, his car wedged in the trees on SS6, Stirling East.

One stage later and the leaderboard took another battering. Burns was out with his clutch problem, Armin Schwarz parked up the second Hyundai with engine troubles and a hefty shunt left Francois Delecour limping while co-driver Daniel Grataloup was airlifted to hospital for medical checks where he was found to have a fractured pelvis, broken ankle and a bruised lung. He will spend the night in intensive care.

By the end of the day Gronholm's lead was hovering around the half minute mark while Solberg and Carlos Sainz are currently locked in battle for second. With Burns out, Solberg's quest is to score enough points to end the season second to the Finn.

The renewed marriage of Colin McRae and Derek Ringer has got off to a steady, if unspectacular start. Ringer put his hand up to accept responsibility for an overshoot on today's second stage and McRae admitted that they still need a bit longer before they get their act together again.

Tomorrow takes the crews due east for a bunch of stages around Mundaring with a brief excursion further east to the spectacular jumps of York Railway and Muresk. The weather forecast is for sunshine to replace the damp conditions but, with 14 cars ahead of him to clear any loose stuff out of the way, Gronholm is in pole position once again.

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