15 November 2002
Gronholm takes leg one honours on Rally GB.
Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm has assumed a strong position in the final round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally of Great Britain, which began in earnest from its host city, Cardiff, this morning.
The Finn's 206 WRC set fastest times on all of today's forest stages and he built up a lead of almost 50 seconds, although Gronholm's cause was helped when his close rival and team-mate Richard Burns slid off and damaged his similar Peugeot's exhaust on only the second stage this morning.
The opening day of the event has been held in a strange blend of weather conditions, with clear blue skies overhead and soaking-wet, muddy and slippery roads in the Welsh forests. As a result, Burns was not the only top driver to be caught out - his fellow countryman Colin McRae slid off on this morning's opening stage, while MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi retired in the same test after he was unsighted by the sun (low in the sky in Wales at this time of year) and slid down a bank.
Gronholm's Peugeot 206 WRC has been reliable. Harri Rovanpera's car suffered from a suspected clutch problem on this morning's second stage, but Peugeot mechanics changed the offending unit at the following service. The Finn then suffered a jump-start penalty on SS5, when a small piece of the handbrake lever came loose and he nudged the car forwards as he was trying to prevent it from falling into his footwell.
Burns' car has been reliable in general, but he lost power when he slid off on the day's second stage and flattened 206's exhaust. He also suffered a loss of differential pressure on the road section immediately after SS5.
Gronholm set fastest time on this morning's first stage, just half a second clear of his team-mate Burns as the expected battle between the pair began to take shape. But it suffered a setback on the next stage, as Burns slid off under braking and flattened his car's exhaust. The Englishman lost well over a minute because of the resulting lack of power but he still fought his way back up the field to end the leg in eighth.
Gronholm, meanwhile, continued to set the pace and he set fastest times on all of the day's forest stages to build up an advantage of almost 50 seconds. He end the day 48.3 seconds up on Subaru's Petter Solberg.
The third Peugeot driver, Rovanpera, lost time with a small clutch problem and then a 10-second jump-start penalty, caused when a piece of his handbrake came loose at the start line of SS5. The Finn also spun in the day's last forest stage but he still managed to finish the day in fifth overall. Peugeot's fourth entry, Gilles Panizzi, lies outside the top 10 after a steady drive.
''I've been driving at a normal level of attack today, so I'm quite pleased that we've ended up with such a good advantage,'' commented Gronholm. ''Obviously this morning it was quite close between us and Richard and then he had his problem, so now we look quite comfortable up front. But there's a long way to go yet and as we've seen today, this is the sort of rally where you can slide off very easily, so we have to keep concentration.''
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