Marcus Gronholm made the perfect start to this year's Propecia Rally New Zealand, posting fastest time on seven of the opening day's nine stages around the Northland town of Paparoa.
The reigning world champion enjoyed a trouble-free start to the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. His pace was such that second-placed man Markko Martin admitted that the Peugeot driver was in a ''different league'' in some stages.
Martin was delighted with his own performance in the all-new Ford Focus RS WRC 03, but there was just 5.5 seconds between himself and Petter Solberg's Subaru Impreza WRC 2003 in third place.
The day started with rain, drying out around lunchtime before the rain returned for the final loop. The drivers accepted it was a lottery whether they got through the nine tests north of Auckland in the dry.
All three of the Peugeot 206 WRCs ran without mechanical fault. Gronholm started and finished the day in the same way, setting fastest time. He has enjoyed a trouble-free run through the leg and now starts in a strong position for the second leg of the event.
Burns and Rovanpera occupy fourth and fifth place respectively, split by just 8.6 seconds. The Englishman admitted that his end of leg result could have been considerably worse if the weather had remained dry. Just as Burns was happy with the weather, Rovanpera had wanted the complete opposite, starting further down the order.
''This is what I had hoped for at the start of the rally, now we have to make sure that we can keep this position for the next two days,'' noted Gronholm. ''Today has been a full attack, it's gone well and the car has been good for us all day.”
Team-mate Burns continued: ''This position is okay, we could have ended this leg at the wrong end of the top ten - we've been very lucky with the rain. I couldn't have gone any faster today.''
Rovanpera added: ''Today has been quite hard work, some times the rain has been really bad, but okay we're here. Now we have to have a big push and see what we can do tomorrow.''