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Panizzi in control in Spain on day one.

Team-mate Colin McRae continued: ''I've been trying to drive in a more precise style than normal because I don't want to have to try to catch a slide and possibly end up hurting my left hand even more. Occasionally on some of the corner cuts I'm getting a bit of jarring in my ribs, but the pace has been reasonably encouraging. We'll just have to keep on pushing.''

Toni Gardemeister's Skoda Octavia WRC has been reliable today although like many, he lost his brakes towards the end of the long 48km stage. Kenneth Eriksson lost his power steering less than half a kilometre into the same test, while Stig Blomqvist suffered an ATS mousse insert break-up. On SS6 Eriksson had to stop and change a puncture.

Gardemeister admitted that he was surprised to be sitting on the verge of the top ten in the big Octavia WRC, but the young Finn fought off fading brakes and concerns over body roll to keep his car clear of both Mitsubishis and his team-mates in 11th. His Octavia picked up some body damage when he slid into a ditch in SS5, though. Kenneth Eriksson's cause wasn't helped by power steering failure for all but half a kilometre of the 48km SS3 and he dropped out of the top 20. Former world champion Stig Blomqvist has not matched Gardemeister's pace but the 1984 title-holder occupies 19th.

Toni Gardemeister noted: ''It's been going quite well today. We made some adjustments to the differentials and the suspension and the car feels quite good. It's maybe still slipping a bit exiting corners, but I can cope with that.''

Kenneth Eriksson added: ''I couldn't believe it when the power steering failed so soon after the start of the long stage, but there was nothing I could do but just concentrate and get through okay.''

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evo WRCs of François Delecour and Alister McRae have been generally reliable, although both drivers have complained of body roll and poor handling.

Delecour and Alister McRae had expected to find the competition tough in Catalunya after a hard Tour de Corse, and that has proved the case today. Both drivers experimented with differential settings, suspension and ride heights, but they still ended up fighting with the Skodas and outside of the top ten. McRae suffered a left-rear puncture in SS5 and dropped to 17th as a result, he recovered to 15th after the final stage [SS6], Delecour meanwhile became happier with his set-up as he moved into 13th.

Alister McRae noted: ''We've made a small improvement for here but it's clear that we still have a lot of work to do. The handling's a little better than it was in Corsica. I'm also finding a bit more confidence in the brakes - they have the same bite as they did in Corsica but the wear rate is better.''

Hyundai's Armin Schwarz felt that his Accent WRC3 lacked stability in today's opening stage but things didn't get any better for the German in the following, 48km test. He suffered a right-front puncture after just 15km and had to stop to change the wheel. Team-mate Freddy Loix also punctured in the same test, but his left-front shed its tread with around 15km remaining so the Belgian limped to the finish without stopping. Schwarz also complained of softening shock absorbers in the afternoon.

Both of the Hyundai drivers, Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz, lost chunks of time with punctures in SS3, but Loix still managed to hold 14th after the final stage of the leg. Hampered by a lack of confidence in his car's suspension, Schwarz was 20th.



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