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Gronholm leads the way in Wales.

At Ford Carlos Sainz lost time on this morning's opening stage when he suffered a puncture. The Spaniard had to complete four kilometres of the test with the flat tyre and flailing rubber then severed a brake pipe and left him with no front brakes. The double world champion tried to fix the problem before the second test (and picked up 40s of road penalties as a result) but he couldn't, and by the end of the third test his rear brakes had failed as well.

Colin McRae's Focus was badly damaged in a high-speed roll on SS4, while Mark Higgins suffered from handling problems towards the end of the same test. He also struggled with a misted windscreen in SS6.

McRae started today as he finished yesterday evening's superspecial in Cardiff - in front. Fastest time on the opening test consolidated the Scot's overnight advantage but Richard Burns retaliated on the following stage. Then in SS4, McRae cut a fifth-gear right-hand bend too tight and a gully on the inside of the corner flipped his Focus into a series of rolls. The Scot retired on the spot, and he was subsequently taken to hospital for precautionary scans after complaining of a loss of peripheral vision immediately after the accident. His navigator Nicky Grist escaped with bruising.

Carlos Sainz lost time with a puncture and a loss of brakes on today's first three stages, leaving new boy Mark Higgins to fly the Ford flag. The former British champion wasn't totally satisfied with his speed in this morning's stages but he still arrived at the day's first major service in sixth overall. Sainz moved forward to occupy that placing by early afternoon, while a spin in SS5 dropped Higgins to seventh.

Colin McRae said: ''We just cut a corner too much, the car hit a bump and rolled over.'' His co-driver Nicky Grist added: ''We were pushing hard and we made a bit too much of a cut in a fast right-hand corner. There was a bit of a ditch and a bad bump, and it threw the car into the air and we rolled several times. The car's well damaged.''

Ford World Rally Team Principal Malcolm Wilson noted: ''You can imagine how we all feel. The title has been within our grasp all season and we were in control of our own destiny here. It's going to be a long three days waiting to see what happens with Richard Burns. The manufacturers' championship is all but gone now, but we'll be back. Ford hasn't come this close to either the drivers' or the manufacturers' titles in some time, and we'll be stronger again in 2002.''

Mitsubishi's Tommi Mäkinen was forced to retire on this morning's opening stage when he cut a corner, broke a bolt in the left-front suspension and lost a wheel. Freddy Loix, meanwhile, lost turbo boost in the opening three tests, and the Belgian's differentials failed to work properly as a result too. Despite a change of turbo at second service, he felt that the car lacked power under 5000rpm and also complained of poor handling.

Mäkinen lost all hope of a fifth world championship title on today's first stage. The Finn tried to cut a corner and broke a bolt in his Lancer WRC's left-front suspension, losing a wheel. He had to retire in the stage, marking a disappointing conclusion to his successful spell at Mitsubishi. Freddy Loix's turbo problems cost him time this morning, and a half-spin on the day's third stage didn't help the Belgian either. He had to fight to stay in the top ten as a result, despite continuing problems with his engine and transmission.

Tommi Mäkinen said: ''I don't really understand what happened. We had the corner marked in our notes and we didn't take more of a cut than anyone else, but then I heard a noise and the lower arm had broken. We then lost the wheel and there was no way we could continue. Rallying can be a hard sport - sometimes you have luck, sometimes you haven't. Today was definitely one of those days when we didn't have any luck. It's hard to accept that the chance of a fifth title is gone - it's been a long year and we had high hopes. And it's very sad for my time at Mitsubishi to end like this.''

Freddy Loix noted: ''There's nobody home under 5000rpm, but it can't be the turbo because the team changed it. Handling is very difficult too - the car isn't happy in corners with bad camber and it's unstable under braking. I hope we can fix it.''



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