Local drivers Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä have become embroiled in a fight for victory on the ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally Finland, which continued today.
The two Peugeot drivers moved clear of rivals Richard Burns, Colin McRae and Markko Martin on the fast stages to the south-west of host town Jyvaskyla. A stunning fastest time from Rovanperä on the day's longest stage, Ouninpohja, moved him into a position to challenge his world champion team-mate. The pair arrived at this evening's superspecial separated by just under 13 seconds and left it with a gap of 14.
The predicted rain failed to materialise today, punishing the first few cars on the road, as they had to sweep the stages clear of loose gravel. Several of the fancied crews hit trouble, too - Didier Auriol retired his Peugeot with suspension failure, while yesterday's privateer sensation Jani Paasonen crashed twice in his Ford Focus.
At Peugeot Didier Auriol's hopes of a top-six finish on the Rally Finland ended in an unlucky 13th stage for the Frenchman. He felt his 206 WRC handling strangely after about six kilometres and then the right-front suspension collapsed in a left-hand corner following a jump. The other two 206 WRCs of Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä have however been reliable.
Marcus Grönholm took over first position on today's opening stage when overnight leader Richard Burns suffered a puncture, and the reigning world champion held top spot thereafter to arrive back in Jyvaskyla this evening 12.7 seconds ahead of his nearest rival.
Harri Rovanperä tried to charge this morning but damaged his suspension slightly on a rock on the day's first test. Following service, the Swedish Rally winner increased his pace again to overhaul Burns and move into second overall.
Marcus Gronholm said: ''There is still a long way to go but it's been a good day. I actually think the competition is much tighter than last year and the roads are a bit drier too, which makes them more slippery. I was worried in the second loop of stages because I think I knocked a wheel a bit out of line after a heavy landing but otherwise the car has been running very well. I want to fight with Harri tomorrow - I haven't had much of a fight for the last nine months, so why not?!''
Harri Rovanpera added: ''I knew I had to charge today after my problems yesterday, but then I hit this rock and started to notice some oil coming from the suspension again. Luckily for me it didn't become as bad as yesterday afternoon, and then on the next three stages I was able to push again. It's going well - I have a good feeling for the car and our speed backs up what we felt after testing.''
Didier Auriol noted: ''I don't understand why the suspension broke. I didn't hit anything, but I did feel the car go a bit strange. Then in a compression after a jump it broke. I'm disappointed - we'd chosen too soft a tyre compound this morning but I knew from yesterday that we could have scored a good result.''