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Martin and Gronholm neck-in-neck in Finland.


Ford driver Markko Martin leads the ninth round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship – the Neste Rally Finland – after an electrifying battle with the Peugeot 206 of Marcus Gronholm.

Martin led after last night's superspecial but Gronholm grabbed the top spot on SS5 today. Yet Martin grabbed the lead back on the last proper stage of the day, before the spectator superspecial at Killeri. Gronholm won the final 2.06 kilometre test, but Martin, second, maintained a slender 2.6 seconds advantage over the reigning World Champion.

Peugeot driver Richard Burns is now third, ahead of another tight battle between Citroen's Colin McRae, Subaru driver Petter Solberg, and the other Citroen of Carlos Sainz.

Today's action was disputed over classic Rally Finland territory with intermittent rain that made driving conditions even more difficult.

At Ford Markko Martin's Focus RS WRC03 was reliable throughout the day. The sister car of Francois Duval also ran without trouble through leg one, as did the 2002 specification Focus of Mikko Hirvonen.

Martin was at the forefront of the battle for the lead all day and held a slender advantage over Gronholm after the final spectator superspecial. Duval was under instructions to finish the rally in order to learn the roads and had a cautious day which resulted in 15th position after the spectator superspecial.

Hirvonen felt he had an incorrect set-up this morning with oversteer and made some changes to improve the car. However, he thinks that further adjustments are still necessary.

Martin said: ''I've been driving over the limit on one or two occasions but flat-out is the only way I'm going to win this rally. There are thousands of Estonian fans here to support me but I'm concentrating so hard in the stages that I don't have time to see all their flags.''

Duval added: ''It's been a difficult day because some of the stages are new to me but on the second run through this afternoon I've improved my times so that's encouraging.''



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