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Gronholm leads in Sweden after leg 1.


Just as he did on the opening round in Monte Carlo two weeks ago, reigning world champion Marcus Gronholm leads the Uddeholm Swedish Rally at the end of the first day.

As the snow started to fall on the second stage, it became clear that Monte Carlo-winner Sebastien Loeb would struggle to maintain the pace which carried him to fastest time on the opening test this morning.

Sure enough, Loeb slipped backed down the leaderboard while Gronholm and his Peugeot colleagues Harri Rovanpera and Richard Burns hit the front on this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Gronholm acknowledged that running first on the road was a big disadvantage, but maintained he hadn't been taking any risks to place his 206 WRC at the top of the pile at the end of the leg.

The driver spoiling the Peugeot party for most of the day was Tommi Makinen. The Finn eased his Subaru Impreza WRC2003 into second place, despite a broken mousse insert on one of his tyres on the third stage of the day.

There was more reason to celebrate for Gronholm, as his protege Juuso Pykalisto was running as top privateer in his Peugeot 206 WRC, fifth overall.

Burns' 206 required a new gearbox at the lunchtime service halt after the centre differential started to give trouble in SS3. The other two official Peugeots ran without fault.

Gronholm moved into the lead of the event on SS2 and then built up an even bigger cushion on the ensuing stages. Gronholm felt his tyres were starting to go off for the final 15km of the third stage, but that was about the Finn's only gripe on the opening day.

Burns suffered problems with the centre diff on the longest stage of the day. The transmission was locking all four wheels when he pulled the handbrake and was then causing the handbrake to stick on. That problem aside, the Englishman was happy with his day's work, ending the leg third overall.



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