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Gronholm looking good for Swedish success.

At Ford meanwhile the Focus RS WRC02s of Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz have been fine today. McRae started today well, setting fastest time on the opening (long) stage and even kick-starting the suggestion that he might be able to hunt down the two leading Peugeots. But then in SS7 he clipped a large rock on the inside of a corner and shattered his left-rear wheel. McRae and navigator Nicky Grist had to stop to change the wheel and they lost nearly three minutes, dropping to 14th overall. Although they recovered to 11th by the end of the day, they remain nearly a minute and a half off the points positions.

Carlos Sainz, meanwhile, has posted consistent top six times to move clear of Juha Kankkunen, Freddy Loix, Jani Paasonen and McRae. The Spaniard arrived back at this evening's final service in third overall.

Carlos Sainz said: ''Conditions today have not been so nice - it has been quite icy in places but then sometimes you get gravel coming through. It's good that we've moved up the order but we can't really relax just yet.''

His team-mate Colin McRae noted: ''The car was exiting a corner and it drifted a little but we were still on the road. Then we just heard a big bang and the wheel had shattered. We drove for about another kilometre before we could find a place to stop and change the wheel. I'm very disappointed. All we can do now is try as hard as possible, because we've got nothing to lose.''

At Hyundai the two Accent WRC2s of Juha Kankkunen and Armin Schwarz both hit transmission glitches this morning - they suffered a loss of hydraulic pressure that made the differentials malfunction. Freddy Loix's car has been reliable, however.

Loix has continued to challenge for a points finish in Sweden, despite feeling that the warmer weather conditions demanded an aggressive driving style that was hard given his foot injury. The Belgian moved past Jani Paasonen on today's opening stage and held fourth as the crews returned to Karlstad. His team-mates Juha Kankkunen and Armin Schwarz both hit transmission problems this morning - Kankkunen dropped to ninth as a result, while Schwarz was unable to mount a recovery after his time-consuming accident yesterday.

Freddy Loix said: ''I'm really enjoying myself - the car feels more like my style of car because you can steer it a bit on the throttle. The only thing that's worrying me slightly is that on the ruts, we need a bit more rebound in the suspension but if we make the car stiffer then we don't really know what'll happen in the slippery sections.''

Juha Kankkunen added: ''The car was hard to drive this morning without the hydraulics and even though the team tried to fix it I think there's still some air in the system - the diffs don't perform consistently throughout the stage. The roads aren't that nice here at the moment anyway - there's a lot of ruts and a fair amount of gravel.''

Skoda's Kenneth Eriksson, Toni Gardemeister and Stig Blomqvist have encountered no significant mechanical problems with their Octavia WRCs today.

Eriksson has enjoyed improved fortunes - after changing the centre differential settings on his Octavia, the Swedish veteran has moved up the leaderboard. His best performance came in SS8, where only rally leader Marcus Gronholm managed to beat his time. As a result, Eriksson had moved into the top six by early afternoon and as the crews returned to Karlstad this evening, he held sixth overall.



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