Leg 2: Gronholm in control

Cracks appeared in the previously invincible Peugeot steamroller today and almost certainly spelled the end of Richard Burns' hopes of becoming the first British winner of the Rally Finland, an event that has only twice been conquered by non-Nordic drivers

Leg 2: Gronholm in control

Burns lost a chunk of time on the second stage today when he landed heavily after a jump and lost turbo boost. "I've always taken that jump flat," he said, "but for some reason it wasn't right this time." It cost him the lead of the event, dropped him to third and, more significantly, handed a healthy time advantage to Finnish team mate Harri Rovanpera. The team had to use all its managements skills to calm the frustrated champion before he could be sent back into battle.

Unfortunately Rovanpera's lead lasted no further than the next stage when he punctured, reached the end of the test with the right front wheel barely hanging on and discovered that the suspension damage was so great that the wheel collapsed under the car on the next road section, putting him out on the spot.

This then handed the lead to the other Flying Finn in the Peugeot team, Marcus Gronholm happy to inherit what must surely be a winning advantage.

"I'm very sad for Harri," said Peugeot boss Corrado Provera. "He was trying very hard to win his home rally. The fight between him and Marcus was very strong but this kind of thing can happen and I can imagine their bitter frustration. We see no need to impose team orders as the gap between first and second is very big. The drivers are professional, they understand what to do." No orders then, but Provera's words carried the underlying message that he is not expecting Burns to challenge Gronholm tomorrow.

Burns has ended the day in second place while fellow Brit Colin McRae has been gifted a podium place at the head of a tense battle for third spot between a string of drivers who have swapped places throughout the day.

Retirements today have been confined to Hyundai's Finnish ace Juha Kankkunen who rolled out of the rally on the day's opening test although Alister McRae had a close call in his Mitsubishi when a rear damper broke on tonight's final stage, sprayed hot oil onto the exhaust and started a fire.

McRae lost around 20 minutes on the stage but managed to complete the leg, albeit well down the running order.

Just six stages lie in wait tomorrow, totalling just under 60 miles of action. The first three are grouped without service and then repeated as the final trio. A regroup has been placed between SS21 and the final stage so that cars can be readied for a live TV shoot-out but it could just as easily be a lap of honour, unless Peugeot's lions lose their roar at the final asking.

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