Marcus Gronholm took a giant step towards achieving his dream of victory on Rally Finland, making the most of his rivals' retirements to open out a large gap over those still in pursuit.
The Peugeot driver all but dominated the opening day's action, taking seven stage wins out of a possible ten, but found life a little less easy as day two dawned. An early morning run-out from the overnight halt still provided the Finn with another fastest time, but preceded a less hospitable day in which Juha Kankkunen, Colin McRae and Sebastian Lindholm would all win stages.
Notably missing from the list of stage winners, however, was Gronholm's long-time challenger - and current championship leader - Richard Burns. The Subaru pilot had been the only thorn in Gronholm's side on day one, sharing the stage wins with the Finn, and would more than likely have added to his tally of three had it not been for a sizeable accident on the day's opening test.
To make matters worse for the Englishman, he had already completed the stage by the time he rolled out of it, misjudging a fifth-gear corner immediately after the flying finish. The error not only handed Gronholm an enlarged advantage, but will almost certainly end Burns' reign at the top of the points standings too.
''We had the corner down as a flat right that tightened, and that's exactly what it was,'' the uninjured Subaru driver revealed, ''I was just going too fast to get around it!''
Inheriting second place in Burns' enforced absence was the rally's surprise package Harri Rovanpera. A constant in and around the top three on Friday, the Finnish privateer admitted early on that he had little chance of catching Gronholm unless the Peugeot hit big problems, and said that he would be more than happy just to stay in second place.
Rovanpera's biggest threat lay with Colin McRae as the cars headed back to the overnight rest halt on day two, but the Ford driver had been able to make little impression on those ahead of him, despite taking two stage wins. The Scot, like Rovanpera, has almost given up hope of winning the event and, with Burns already out, is just looking to improve his Finnish finishing record.
''It's better for me to stay on the safe side, and try to ensure I score some points,'' he said, ''If you look at the tyre tracks from Marcus and Harri, you can see that they are still trying very, very hard. I thought it was going to be quite easy to pass Harri, but he's proving too tenacious for me to take any big chances.''
Burns wasn't the only victim of the day's opening stage, with the Mitsubishi and SEAT challenges both being reduced by one. Freddy Loix suffered not one, but two, accidents in the course of Juupajoki's 30km, the second, although only a minor collision with a rock, sufficient to remove the radiator exposed by the first incident and render the Carisma hors de combat