McRae gets off to flying start in Argentina

Colin McRae started the Rally Argentina with a blank score sheet, but if his form on the opening leg of the event is a guideline, the flying Scot could be right back in the title race by the time he heads out of Cordoba. But Richard Burns will be pushing all the way as he wound up second to make it a Brit one-two at the end of day one

McRae gets off to flying start in Argentina

McRae has dominated the event to date. The fastest time on each of last night's opening Super Stages preceded three more fastest times on Friday's 'proper' stages. The Ford driver backed off a little on the rocky SS6, allowing Burns, who has also struggled so far this season, to set his first fastest stage time of the Rally amid a fierce battle with Carlos Sainz.

Sainz won SS7 before McRae was back in pole position on today's final stage to wrap up a start to finish lead, leaving Burns and Sainz in second and third and Tommi Makinen the only driver seemingly able to challenge this trio, in fourth.

McRae's imperious drive is in stark contrast to his frustration of the previous four events that has left him running 14th on the road today. The start order at the beginning of the rally is decided by current WRC positions, but his overnight lead makes him first out tomorrow.

"Everything's fine," he said. "The conditions are better than we expected and it's showing in our times. It's frustrating to have to start this far back and there is always the risk of some big surprises as these roads cut up badly."

Burns survived a fifth gear spin on the first stage of the day and power steering problems plagued his Subaru Impreza later in the day.

"Even without those problems we wouldn't be ahead of Colin," admitted Burns. "We might not be able to catch him but we can put him under pressure."

Sainz has been a hero so far, after battling against serious pain from a trapped nerve in his back. Ideally, he ought not to be driving at all but, as team boss Malcolm Wilson said before the start: "It would be a brave man who told Carlos he couldn't compete..."

Reigning champion Marcus Gronholm finished the day a distant sixth and with just over a minute and half between him and McRae, the Finn will certainly struggle to get back on terms with the leaders.

Gronholm's Peugeot team mates were similarly lacklustre with Didier Auriol finishing just ahead in fifth. The French marque lost the third 206 WRC of Harri Rovanpera on the final stage of the day with terminal suspension damage.

The Finn is the only major retirement so far, although both Hyundai's caused drama at the end of the day when the Accent WRCs of Alister McRae and Kenneth Eriksson both caught fire. McRae lost seven minutes putting out the flames.

Toshi Arai's Subaru spluttered to a halt in the final control after a ham-fisted spectator set off his fire extinguisher and flooded the engine bay, causing a panic before the team could clear up the mess.

Tomorrow sees the cars head south for another six-stage battle in the mountains. Early morning fog was a factor today and could well be repeated tomorrow. A great deal of the recce was run under similar conditions and so some drivers' pace notes may not be as accurate as they could be. Hold your breath!

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