Leg 1am: Gronholm on easy street

Marcus Gronholm already looks to have Rally GB sewn up after a typically assured run during the first morning of the event, which has seen him open up a comfortable 38-second lead

Leg 1am: Gronholm on easy street

The world champion has been quickest in all three of the morning's stages, and with principal rivals Richard Burns and Colin McRae suffering with self-inflicted problems, the Finn is well poised for a record-equalling sixth win in a season.

Not that's it all over yet of course. Conditions are muddy and slippery and are set to get worse as the rain continues to fall. If Gronholm is caught out, then the man set to profit at the moment is Petter Solberg.

The Subaru ace passed overnight leader Markko Martin on SS5, to claim the runner-up spot. However, the Estonian is just two seconds behind. In fact, Gronholm aside, there are a whole bunch of drivers closely matched in the times.

Carlos Sainz is 10 seconds down on Martin in fourth, while Harri Rovanpera is 17 seconds further back in fifth. The Peugeot man would have been a lot closer, but incurred a 10-second penalty for jumping the start of SS5. Tommi Makinen holds the final points scoring position.

Sebastien Loeb is seventh, but the recovering McRae and Burns are hot on his heels. Mark Higgins had been the top Brit for most of the morning, but was passed by the big two on SS5.

Justin Dale was forced out of his WRC debut ahead of the start of SS3. He rolled his Mitsubishi through SS2, and although it was initially thought to be ok, it was subsequently found to have sustained damage to the roll cage, and the team had no choice but to withdraw him.

Valentino Rossi's WRC debut was even shorter, and the MotoGP champ retired on SS2 after he slid wide when blinded by the sun. He hit a bank, stalled the car, and was unable to get it restarted. He wasn't the only new boy in trouble though, and former F1 driver Mark Blundell smashed the driver side window of his MG ZR when he clouted a bank on SS3. He got the car to the end of the stage and is still in the rally.

There are two more stages to run today, including SS6 - Rheola - which contains the purpose built Walter's Arena, where the fans will get to see each driver for over a minute as they negotiate the complex of jumps, water splashes and tight turns.

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