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Gronholm leads the way in Wales.


Outgoing FIA World Rally Champion Marcus Grönholm holds the initial advantage on the closing round of this year's series, the Network Q Rally of Great Britain, which started in earnest today.

The Finn and navigator Timo Rautiainen ended today's stages in the Welsh forests nearly half a minute clear of their nearest rival, Subaru's Richard Burns.

But the day has been dominated by interest in this year's world championship title fight. Tommi Mäkinen lost hope of a fifth crown when he broke his Mitsubishi's suspension in today's opening stage, and Colin McRae crashed out of a potentially title-winning position on the day's third test.

Outside bet Carlos Sainz lost time with a puncture, so Richard Burns now holds a commanding title advantage. The British Subaru driver still needs to finish fourth or higher to prevent McRae from winning the championship, however.

At Peugeot the 206 WRCs of Marcus Grönholm and Didier Auriol have been reliable today. Harri Rovanperä was less than satisfied with his car's handling during this morning's stages, but a change of differential set-up left the Swedish Rally winner more comfortable with his car.

Grönholm set the fastest time on today's third stage to move into second overall on the event, and when Colin McRae crashed out on the next test, the outgoing world champion took over the lead. He then posted fastest times on SS5, SS6 and SS7 to build his advantage over Richard Burns to more than half a minute.

Auriol has also been in impressive form, although the Frenchman entered today's final pair of tests expecting to lose time in foggy conditions he detests, as he did. Harri Rovanperä has also posted competitive times despite concerns about his car's handling, and the Finn ended the day third.

Marcus Gronholm said: ''It's obviously going well. We're thinking about the manufacturers' championship, pushing hard but not taking any real risks. We still have two long days to go and as this morning showed, this rally is really unpredictable. I've got a good feeling with the car, though - the same sort of feeling that I had in Australia.''

Harri Rovanperä added: ''The car was a bit twitchy this morning but once we swapped the differential set-up it felt better immediately. This morning was crazy - we expected some things to happen this weekend but I didn't think Colin and Tommi would retire so soon. We don't need to push at the same speed as Marcus, because we're thinking about makes' points.''



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