Peugeot endured mixed fortunes on the opening leg of the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Harri Rovanpera led the event by 20.7 seconds, but that was balanced by the persistent power steering problems, which beset reigning World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm's 206 WRC and left him languishing in 19th place, more than ten minutes behind his team-mate.
Rovapera's day on the stages to the west of the rally's base in Kemer had been largely trouble-free. The Finn wasn't ready, however, to predict a possible second world championship victory, pointing out that his lead wasn't insurmountable to the crews behind.
That chasing pack? - was headed by the hugely experienced Carlos Sainz. By his own admission Sainz still has plenty to learn about the Xsara WRC, but he settled on a set-up which was to his liking and stuck to it. Ford's Francois Duval belied his lack of WRC experience to hold an overnight third place, just 8.8 seconds off Sainz.
The Junior World Rally Championship runners, were headed by Suzuki driver Daniel Carlsson. The Swede had eked out an advantage of 1m 20s from his nearest category rival Kosti Katajamaki.
Gronholm's Peugeot 206 WRC suffered a hydraulic problem from the third stage onwards today. Richard Burn's 206 WRC developed a gearbox problem in the final stage of the day.
Rovanpera moved into the lead of the rally after setting fastest time on the fourth stage. The Finn admitted that his position further back on the road was helping him, but he said he wasn't taking any big risks with his pace.
His team-mate Burns was sixth at the end of the day, having suffered a puncture on each one of this morning's three stages. Every one of the deflations was on the front-right of his 206.
Gronholm didn't get the chance to get into a rhythm for this event, as power steering gremlins hit his Peugeot on the day's second stage. The reigning world champion lost the power steering on his 206. The unit was changed at lunchtime service, but the problem reoccurred on the road section out of service, leaving him to driove the final two stages of the day without power steering. In total the Finn lost ten minutes through the day.
''The road surface is being swept clean in some places, but on the other hand the drivers are pulling some rocks out on to the road, so it's not all good news,'' commented Rovanpera. ''The long stage the first time through wasn't so bad, but the second run at some of the stages is going to be very rough - not so nice. It's going to be hard work tomorrow, there's a long way to go - I'm not going to predict anything.''