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Gronholm leads in Cyprus after leg one.


Reigning FIA World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm moved into the lead of the Cyprus Rally on the final stage of the opening leg. The Peugeot driver had struggled to keep up with the pace-setters on the first loop of stages north of the rally's base in Limassol. Running third on the road, he was forced to sweep the surface clean of the small stones, which improved the condition for those behind him.

His fellow 206 WRC driver Harri Rovanpera held the initial advantage, only to slip back on the final test when he was hit by gearbox problems. On the second run at the 38-kilometre Lagoudera-Spilia stage, Gronholm pulled 28.4 seconds out of his countryman to move to the top of the table.

Behind the two Finns, Petter Solberg leads the chase in his Subaru. He is 3.5 seconds off Rovanpera and just 10.3 off the lead of the rally after today's four stages. Gilles Panizzi had run as high as second earlier in the day, but dropped down the order to fourth, ahead of fellow Frenchman Sebastien Loeb of Citroen.

The 206 WRC of Gronholm ran without mechanical fault today, while Richard Burns and Rovanpera's cars suffered transmission problems on the fourth and final stage of the day.

Rovanpera hit the front of the rally with fastest time on the opening stage, but felt he pushed too hard through the first half of the second test, causing his front tyres to loose some of their grip. Burns and Gronholm were running first and third on the road, and both struggled as they swept the loose gravel off the surface. Burns' car lost hydraulic pressure, which takes away the steering-mounted paddle shift, but more importantly stops the differentials from working. Burns ended the day eighth. Gronholm moved into the lead of the rally, with Rovanpera second after his car jammed itself in one gear for most of the long final stage.

''This is nothing new,'' said Burns, ''we knew what it was going to be like and we've lost about the amount of time we expected to. The anti-lag system was losing some of its efficiency towards the end of the long stage, but that was caused just through the heat. The hydraulic problem came with about ten kilometres left, which isn't a lot, but it's enough to cause trouble.''

Rovanpera noted: ''I wasn't able to push as hard as I would have liked this morning; it was down to the tyres a little bit, but also because of the nature of the stages. The roads are quite narrow in places, which means you can't really push hard and work the car. The gearbox problem was really frustrating, but okay we are still second which isn't so bad.''

Gronholm continued: ''Through the first part of the long stage, everything was good this morning. The split times showed that we were quickest for the first ten kilometres, but then the loose stones were terrible; we just couldn't push.''

At Subaru Solberg's Impreza WRC2003 ran without problems, while Tommi Makinen's car was hit with turbo anti-lag and power steering problems in the second loop of stages.



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