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Gronholm shows the way on day one in Argentina.


FIA World Rally Championship leader Marcus Grönholm has already stamped his authority on the sixth round of the series, the Rally Argentina, which began in earnest this morning.

After last night's ceremonial start in host town Villa Carlos Paz, today's action took crews into the mountain roads to the north of Cordoba.

Grönholm was fastest on the opening three stages and as weather conditions worsened this afternoon, he charged further ahead to end the opening day with a lead of more than a minute and a half.

Behind the Peugeot driver, there has been a close battle between Tommi Mäkinen and Richard Burns for second overall. The scrap swung back and forth in the final two stages as both drivers fought with poor visibility and Mäkinen hit gearbox problems. The Subaru driver eventually ended the day just over 20 seconds clear of the reigning world champion, with the other works Impreza of Petter Solberg just over six seconds further back in fourth.

Despite the poor weather conditions and notoriously tricky Argentine stages, there have been few retirements among the leading crews, although François Delecour's Lancer succumbed to accident damage and Armin Schwarz's Hyundai stopped with fuel pressure at the end of SS9.

The Peugeot 206 WRCs of Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä have been reliable today. The car of Richard Burns broke a spark plug on this morning's opening stage, lapsing onto three cylinders for more than half of the test. Gilles Panizzi's car stopped and was reluctant to restart on the final road section to La Cumbre service after SS9, and he and navigator brother Hervé had to push the car into the time control.

Grönholm might have had to wait a little longer than expected to start his charge this morning - thanks to the cancellation of the first stage due to spectator congestion - but once the action began in earnest, the current championship leader set three fastest times in succession to move clear of rivals Tommi Mäkinen and Richard Burns. He then bolstered that advantage with another fastest time in the day's penultimate stage as low cloud reduced visibility to only a few metres. Grönholm ended the day's action well over a minute clear of his nearest rival.

His team-mate Richard Burns lost time on today's first test when his 206 WRC broke a spark plug and dropped onto three cylinders. But the reigning world champion recovered in the middle group of stages, setting fastest time in SS6 as he moved ahead of Harri Rovanperä into third overall. That became second overall when Mäkinen hit gearbox problems although the Finn bounced back in the final stage of the day and reclaimed the position.

Rovanperä was also in contention for a podium position overnight, but the Finn dropped time on the last pair of stages - he holds seventh. The final 206 WRC of Gilles Panizzi stopped on the road section back to final service this evening, and the crew had to push the car into the time control at La Cumbre and collected a 1m 20sec penalty. They still ended the day in eleventh, however.



Related Pictures

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Marcus Gronholm - Peugeot 206 WRC
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Yazeed Al Rajhi, Michal Orr (Ford Fiesta RRC, #31 Yazeed Racing)
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Yazeed Al Rajhi, Michal Orr (Ford Fiesta RRC, #31 Yazeed Racing)
Yazeed Al Rajhi, Michal Orr (Ford Fiesta RRC, #31 Yazeed Racing)
Yazeed Al Rajhi, Michal Orr (Ford Fiesta RRC, #31 Yazeed Racing)
Bjorn Waldegard [Pic credit: Race Retro / www.historicmotorsportshow.com]
Yazeed Al Rajhi, Michal Orr (Ford Fiesta RRC, #31 Yazeed Racing)
Yazeed Al Rajhi, Michal Orr (Ford Fiesta RRC, #31 Yazeed Racing)
Yazeed Al Rajhi, Michal Orr (Ford Fiesta RRC, #31 Yazeed Racing)
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Jacques Villeneuve testing his Albatec Racing Peugeot [Pic credit: Gary Hawkins/Ebrey Photographic]
Jacques Villeneuve in his Albatec Racing Peugeot [Pic credit: Gary Hawkins/Ebrey Photographic]

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