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Sainz takes lead on day one of Rally Argentina.


Carlos Sainz is the overnight leader of the fifth round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship in Argentina.

Sainz's Citroen is 22.4 seconds ahead of Ford's Markko Martin, after a largely trouble-free day for the double world champion, who posted three fastest times through the day.

Martin was slowed by transmission trouble on the second loop of stages, but set fastest times on two of the final four stages of the day to move back into the frame. Richard Burns led Peugeot's charge, having been the first through the day's 11 stages to the north of the event's base in Villa Carlos Paz.

Marcus Gronholm led competitors into the first full day of competition on Rally Argentina. The Peugeot driver had set established a 2.3 second lead on the two runs at the Pro Racing superspecial stage just outside Carlos Paz last night. Gronholm's grip on the lead of the rally was wrenched free when he smashed the right-rear wheel on a ninth-stage rock, dropping almost two minutes and five places.

At Citroen Colin McRae retired his Xsara WRC on SS9 when the car caught fire, while Sainz's car suffered power steering problems on the first loop of stages. Sebastien Loeb enjoyed a trouble-free day in his Xsara.

Sainz led the event at the end of the opening leg. The Spaniard had dropped from third to fourth after SS5, but despite the steering problems on the next stage he set fastest time and moved into second. One stage later he was into the lead and remained there for the rest of the day.

Loeb's progress was undramatic, save for an overshoot at the same place as Sainz in SS9. Loeb made alterations to the transmission set up of his Xsara after the first loop of stages and was much happier thereafter. McRae's rally ended on the opening leg for the second event in succession, with a fire on SS9.

''The steering started to go at the end of stage five,'' noted Sainz, ''It was quite difficult, some times it would be there and then it would fail for a couple of corners. In stage nine I was too fast into one corner, we overshot and I stalled the engine. That cost us about ten seconds. Today we have been surviving these stages, some of them have been quite rough. I am pleased.''

''I am really happy with the changes I made to the car,'' added team-mate, Loeb, ''it made it easier for me to get on the power earlier in the corners.''

Colin McRae continued: ''Smoke started to come into the car during the stage. When we started to get a fire in the car, we pulled over to put it out. We stopped three times in the stage, but in the end it was too bad and we stopped for good.''



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