Richard Burns leads the eighth round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship - the ADAC Rallye Deutschland - after a largely trouble-free day at the wheel of his Peugeot 206 WRC.

The Englishman led from the start, having set the fastest times on the opening two stages this morning. Burns dropped back to second overall after a spirited charge from Ford's Markko Martin, put the Focus driver ahead after SS4. Gearbox trouble on the Estonian's car on the next stage however left him with only four forward gears and unable to fend Burns' off.

The 2001 world champion led team-mate Marcus Gronholm and Citroen's Sebastien Loeb after the superspecial stage at St Wendel, which concluded the day one action.

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Driving a Citroen Xsara WRC, Loeb suffered a couple of tyre problems early in the day, but recovered to set second fastest times on stages four and five before going outright quickest on the sixth test.

Reigning champion Marcus Gronholm made a steady start to the event, admitting he was finding it hard to get fired up for today's seven stages, but he found his form through the final loop and closed in on Loeb. Today's stages took crews to the vineyards of Mosel and the tank-testing roads of Baumholder.

The Peugeots of Burns and Gronholm ran without mechanical problems today, while Gilles Panizzi's car suffered brake problems in the morning.

The combination of a bad vibration for the long fourth stage and a fast time from Ford's Martin ensured that Burns dropped to second place, before going back into the lead after SS5.

Gronholm made a steady start to the event, but moved up into third place after posting the third quickest time on the long Panzerplatte-Ost test and into second after the last stage of the day.

Running as part of the factory team for the first time since January's Monte Carlo, Panizzi felt his brake pedal was too hard. The Frenchman said he wasn't feeling any pain from the fractured rib he incurred in an accident testing for this event - he ended the day fifth.

''The first two stages went well for us,'' noted Burns, ''it was probably an advantage being at the front of the field, there wasn't too much dirt on the road. Near the end of SS3 I felt a vibration coming from the front, then all the way through the long stage it was quite bad from the front-left. I think the rim was damaged. The roads in Baumholder weren't too bad, though - better than last year.''

Gronholm commented: ''I don't know why, but I'm not really into this rally yet. I can't explain it, but I think the feeling will come soon - we need to speed up. The car is okay, though.''

Panizzi noted: ''I don't have the confidence in the brakes and not having driven this rally before, I'm still getting used to the stages. With the brakes, there's not much feedback to me, not enough feeling.''

At Citroen meanwhile Carlos Sainz suffered brake problems with his Xsara WRC, while the other three cars of Colin McRae, Sebastien Loeb and Philippe Bugalski ran without any mechanical problems.

McRae slipped back from his initial second position when he overshot a junction on the third stage. Changing the tyres after SS3, the Scotsman noticed the sump guard had come loose. Unable to solve the problem, McRae drove steadily through the following long stage, mindful that the Baumholder stages are the roughest of the rally. He ended the day fourth.

Loeb moved ahead of McRae on that fourth test, despite taking a tyre which he felt was too soft for the stages. The right-rear tyre on Loeb's Xsara had come off the rim for the last few kilometres of the second stage.

Sainz's car was locking its rear wheels on the first loop. A change of discs at the ensuing service didn't make much difference to the Spaniard. He then overshot a junction in stage three and suffered a spin in the next one, he finished up sixth overall.

Bugalksi's biggest problem was running further back on the road and he was eleventh at the end of play.

Loeb said: ''On the early stages today, the car was sliding around a lot - the tyres were really wrong - that cost us some time. The tyre compound wasn't too soft it was the actual construction of the tyre which was wrong for us.''

McRae noted: ''Dropping the time we did on the second loop of stages is not a disaster, we've just got to catch it up again. The car felt good in the vineyards, but in Baumholder it was too low. The car was grounding out in places - which didn't help the problem with the sumpguard.''

Sainz continued: ''The rear brakes are grabbing and locking the wheels too easily. We've changed the discs, but we need to make more changes. The early stages have not been too fantastic for us, we dropped more time with the overshoot and the spin.''

Ford's Markko Martin's Focus RS WRC03 had trouble with it's anti-lag system early in the day and then lost fifth and sixth gears on the second run at the Stein und Wein Fell stage.

The sister car of Francois Duval ran without trouble through leg one, as did the 2002 specification Focus of Mikko Hirvonen.

Martin's fastest time on the fourth stage moved him to the top of the leaderboard, only for him to hit transmission trouble two thirds of the way through the 17-kilometre fifth test. Martin dropped 50 seconds and slipped from first position down the leaderboard to tenth.

Duval is driving these stages in a World Rally Car for the first time. He ran as high as third overall before a fourth-stage spin and overheating his tyres through the final loop dropped him down the order - he finished up seventh.

This was Hirvonen's first attempt at this event. Despite a problem with his Ford's front-left tyre on the long fourth stage, the Finn's day passed without incident, although he is way down the field in 16th.

''I was downshifting for a corner when the problem started,'' explained Martin, ''The gearbox wouldn't select the gears. We had to switch to the manual gear-shift which meant we couldn't use the handbrake - which cost us so much time in the tight hairpins. It is so frustrating.''

Duval commented: ''The roads were very dirty in places, but the car has been perfect. I am enjoying some of the stages. I had a spin in stage four and then was too aggressive with the tyres, which cost me quite a bit of time.''

Hirvonen added: ''I'm here for some experience. Having things like the tyre problems is all good and useful for me to know what happens on this rally if you push too hard in some of the stages. We also had a puncture in SS2.''

At Subaru Petter Solberg's car ran without mechanical problems, while Tommi Makinen's Impreza WRC2003 was hit by problems with the turbo anti-lag system [ALS] and the gearbox and then retired with no electrical charge after SS6.

Makinen moved into the top ten on the fourth stage of the day, having stalled on the start line of SS2 and then found it difficult to engage the right gear when downshifting the Subaru on the fourth test. His efforts came to nought when the belt which drives the power steering and alternator broke. He drove through SS6 with no power steering, but then ran out of battery 1.5km away from service.

Solberg was not feeling well throughout the opening leg of the rally. The Norwegian was concentrating on getting through the day's seven stages without dropping too much time.

''I don't know what it is, I just don't feel myself,'' said Solberg, he finished up ninth, ''I took something for it after the first two stages, but it didn't help. This is the hardest day I can remember on the stages.''

''We probably could have made it back to the service area, but we got caught up in bad traffic - which meant the journey took longer than anticipated. It's really disappointing to retire,'' noted Makinen, ''even more so when we were so close to service.''

Hyundai's Freddy Loix's Accent WRC lost oil from its catch-tank on fast right-hand corners, while Armin Schwarz's car blew a turbo on SS4. Manfred Stohl felt the transmission wasn't working as well as it could have on the opening loop of stages.

The rally didn't get off to the best of starts for the Hyundai team, with none of their drivers managing a clean run through the opening leg's seven stages. The problem with Loix's car is a repeat of the trouble he had in Sanremo last year. The oil spills from the tank and gets onto the left-hand tyres, making the car hard to handle. Justin Dale's works-supported car is also suffering the same problem. The problem was sorted on both cars ahead of stages five and six.

Schwarz's only trouble on stages one and two was the lack of top-end power from the Accent, until the turbo went two stages later. Stohl admitted his transmission trouble had also affected his confidence on the opening day.

Loix said: ''On the right-handers, the car was sliding like mad. We are quick through the left-hand corners, but it was like every right-hander was wet for us.''

Schwarz continued: ''The turbo went eight kilometres into the long stage. Considering how that limited the power, our stage time wasn't so bad. These kind of stages are not going to be so good for our car, there are a lot of long straights where we need more power.''

At Skoda Didier Auriol's Fabia WRC suffered a problem with the timing belt in SS4, which cost between 30 and 40bhp for the remainder of the day's stages. The Frenchman then retired with engine problems in the day's last stage. Toni Gardemeister's car was hit by ALS and brake problems early in the leg.

This is the first competitive outing for Skoda's new World Rally Car. Auriol's car ran well until the timing belt was damaged in Baumholder. The team were unable to fix the problem at the service which followed, forcing him to drive stages five and six with the down-on-power car.

Gardemeister's ALS problem slowed him early in the day, while the brake problems knocked his confidence. From then on, he decided not to push as hard as he could, preferring to gain experience of the car.

Auriol said: ''It is a pity to retire now! We were doing what we can with the engine in this state and I think the times were not so bad given how much power we have lost. Everything else on the car, the handling and the brakes feels good. The roads have been okay, except for the amount of gravel being pulled out - it has been good practice for Rally Finland!''

Gardemeister, who ended the leg 12th, added: ''We are driving safe now, not pushing like hell. This morning was not so good; every time we came to a hairpin and tried to pull away the car was almost stalling because of the anti-lag. Then driving a car with a long brake pedal is also bad for the confidence.''

Of the other entries Daniel Sola leads the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship crews after the opening leg. The Mitsubishi Lancer driver's pace left his competitors struggling to keep up. Martin Rowe was next quickest in a Subaru Impreza.

Cedric Robert is the top non-manufacturer car in his works-spec, Bozian-run 206 Peugeot WRC - he is eighth overall.

Rally statistics:

Starters: 79 crews (37 Group A and 42 Group N) started this morning.

Top retirements: Makinen (FIN) and Auriol (FR).

Today - Friday 25 July: Leg 1 started from Trier at 08h00 and covered 606.74km, including 117.31km on seven stages.

Tomorrow - Saturday 26 July: Leg 2 starts from Trier at 06h30 and covers 573.01km, including 169.38km on nine stages. The first car is expected to arrive back in Trier at 20h16.

Weather forecast: Expected to remain dry, but cloudy with occasional sunshine.

Stage by stage summary - Leg 1:

SS1 Stein und Wein Fell 1 (17.52kms):
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 9m 37.5
2. Martin (EE) Ford 9m 38.4
3. McRae (GB) Citroen 9m 39.4

SS2 Dhrontal 1 (12.71kms):
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 8m 08.1
2. McRae (GB) Citroen 8m 08.7
3. Loeb (F) Citroen 8m 11.4

Leaders after SS2:
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 17m 45.6
2. McRae (GB) Citroen 17m 48.1
3. Martin (EE) Subaru 17m 49.9

SS3 Maiwald (15.66kms):
1. Martin (EE) Ford 9m 01.4
2. Burns (GB) Peugeot 9m 04.0
3. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 9m 07.1

Leaders after SS3:
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 26m 49.6
2. Martin (EE) Ford 26m 51.3
3. Duval (B) Ford 27m 01.0

SS4 Panzerplatte Ost (35.12kms):
1. Martin (EE) Ford 20m 34.7
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 20m 44.2
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 20m 44.3

Leaders after SS4:
1. Martin (EE) Ford 47m 26.0
2. Burns (GB) Peugeot 47m 38.3
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 47m 47.9

SS5 Stein und Wein Fell 2 (17.52kms):
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 9m 37.8
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 9m 38.6
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 9m 40.1

Leaders after SS5:
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 57m 16.1
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 57m 27.3
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 57m 28.0

SS6 Dhrontal 2 (12.71kms):
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 8m 00.7
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 8m 01.1
3. McRae (GB) Citroen 8m 03.6

Leaders after SS6:
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 1h 05m 20.4
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 1h 05m 28.0
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 05m 29.1

SS7 Super Special St Wendel 1 (6.65kms):
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 3m 24.7
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 3m 25.4
3. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 3m 25.7

Leaders after SS7:
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 1h 08m 45.1
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot +9.4
3. Loeb (F) Citroen +10.3
4. McRae (GB) Citroen +29.0
5. Panizzi (F) Peugeot +43.1
6. Sainz (E) Citroen +47.0
7. Duval (B) Ford +49.9
8. Robert (F) Peugeot +55.6
9. Solberg (N) Subaru +1m 14.9
10. Martin (EE) Ford +1m 27.6