Leg 1am: Gronholm, who else?

Petter Solberg and Freddy Loix provided a brief interlude, but when the serious business of Rally Australia got under way it was once again Marcus Gronholm and Peugeot who set the target for the others to aim at

Leg 1am: Gronholm, who else?

World champion Gronholm has enjoyed Michael Schumacher-esque superiority during the second half of the WRC season and on Friday morning's evidence, the Finn shows no sign of letting up as he bids for a third straight win in Oz.

Even at this early stage the only man who looks capable of denying Gronholm is team-mate Richard Burns. However, when the Englishman dropped a full 10 seconds through SS6, Gronholm was able to bask in a 20.6s overall lead going into the final three stages of the day.

Before Gronholm triumphed on SS3, Rally Australia looked set to be one of the most open in years. Solberg's Super Special stage win gave him the initial lead, and the Norwegian looked the main threat to the Gronholm/Burns axis.

Loix was the surprise winner of the short SS2, but the Hyundai driver could not sustain such unprecedented form and gradually slipped out of the points as former champions Tommi Makinen and Colin McRae crept up the order.

It was a low-key morning for McRae who was usually to be found towards the lower end of the top 10 in his Focus. In contrast, team-mate Carlos Sainz was on the attack from the off. With his 2003 plans still unclear, the Spaniard clearly has a point to prove, and with less than a second separating him from Solberg's podium position, he's stating his case loud and clear.

Harri Rovanpera caused no great shakes as he anonymously carved himself a niche in fifth place, but the Finn will have to up his pace if he's to keep ahead of Makinen, who got faster as the day wore on.

Before the event it was predicted that running first on the road would be a big disadvantage for the early runners, opening runner Gronholm expected to have the worst of it. However, heavy rain before the start compacted the road surface and removed a lot of the loose surfacing, although it did make the going very slippery.

The conditions eventually got the better of Loix, whose fine charge ended with an accident five kilometres into SS6 - the longest of the day. The Belgian's retirement promoted McRae into sixth.

It was a tough morning for Skoda's Kenneth Eriksson, who lost a lot of time with a leaking diff and then received a 10-second penalty after starting SS5 late.

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