Marcus Gronholm has claimed the overnight advantage on the Rally of Argentina however the Finn has been locked in an intense battle with Carlos Sainz throughout the day, the Spaniard briefly claiming the lead for Citroen after stage eight.

Back in Villa Carlos Paz tonight however, Gronholm has maintained a slim 8.4-second lead for Peugeot.

"I'm generally happy with the way things have gone," reflected the Finn at the end of the day, "although I haven't been able to relax for one moment. Things certainly aren't comfortable, and anything could still happen. I've been pushing reasonably hard without going crazy, and as this is fast enough to keep the lead my plan is to carry on like this. I've got no complaints about the car though: the team has done an excellent job."

Sainz meanwhile was equally happy to end the day 'best of the rest'.

"The car was perfect," he said. "My tyres suffered a bit in the afternoon's loop - I think I had asked for them to be cut too much. Really, it was a very good day. Interesting, even amusing because of the fight with Marcus Gronholm. This is all very positive for me, of course, but it is also good for the team. We have to continue to push, especially as Sebastien is not far behind, considering he lost quite a lot of time by being first on the road. So tomorrow, it will be 'al fondo'."

Sebastien Loeb meanwhile holds third in the second Citro?n Xsara WRC while Fran?ois Duval is fourth in the sole remaining registered Ford Focus.

"It's not been an enjoyable day for me but I'm in fourth place and that is a good position after the opening leg," commented Duval. "The car hasn't felt perfect but I think we can solve that tonight and I'm looking forward to driving the car tomorrow when the handling should be better. I'm going to take it easy tomorrow. There are large time gaps in front and behind me and it's important to finish in the points for Ford so I won't take any risks. The morning stages are all new to me so that's another reason for being cautious and not brave,"

Mitsubishi's Kristian Sohlberg lies fifth while Mikko Hirvonen is sixth, the Finn losing time earlier in the day when his Subaru came to a halt after a water splash in stage nine.

Harri Rovanpera has also experienced problems throughout the leg, the Peugeot driver slowed with a broken hydraulic pump all afternoon.

"These problems always seem to happen to me when there are several stages left before service," commented a frustrated Rovanpera, "The steering suddenly failed as I was turning into a corner and from then I knew it was going to be very hard work. I tried to fix the problem on the road section, but it was too complicated. Now that the car is fine again we can push hard tomorrow."

The two leading retirements of the leg include Markko Martin, who rolled end-over-end after a jump in the 16.76 kilometre Villa Giardino-La Falda stage [SS5]. The crew escaped serious injury, although both Martin and co-driver Michael Park were taken to hospital for scans and x-rays.

"The jump came at the end of a long straight," explained co-driver, Michael Park. "We took a slightly different line and on landing the car's differential guard hit a rock. The impact kicked the car into the air and it landed on its nose before rolling end over end down the road. The first impact took much of the speed out of the accident so the car didn't roll too many times. Markko's door was ripped open so we both climbed out that side and I went back down the road to warn following cars. It's the biggest accident I've had and I don't want another like it. The time and effort that has gone into constructing the safety cell around the cockpit on the Focus has been huge and I'm so thankful that's the case."

Reigning World Champion Petter Solberg was also forced onto the sidelines for the first time this season, the Norwegian initially experiencing problems after a water splash and then with a fire, both in stage nine.

"I don't yet know what happened, I'm obviously disappointed, but we're just going to have to work even harder from now on," said the Norwegian. "I've done many rallies in my life and tackled many different water splashes, however this has happened three times now and together we're going to have to find the best way of tacking them.

"Looking at the bigger picture it's important to remember that there are still eight rallies and 80 points to go and up to this point we had finished 11 rallies in a row with seven podiums and five wins. It's tough, but you have to accept that these things happen to everyone some time. I'd like to start again tomorrow if we can get the car returned and fixed in time, as I want to get back out there and tackle the rest of the stages. I want to win here next time."

In total of the 74 starters only 40 completed the first leg, eleven in the Production Car WRC category, which is currently led by Subaru's Marcos Ligato. Ligato leads Manfred Stohl, who is second, by 50.7 seconds, while Gianluigi Galli, Daniel Sola and Jani Paasonen complete the top five.

The second leg tomorrow [Saturday] is divided between the flowing stages in the Calamuchita Valley, south of Villa Carlos Paz, and a return to the sandy roads of the Punilla Valley where today was based. After re-starting at 06.17, drivers face four tests around Santa Rosa de Calamuchita before three more north of Villa Carlos Paz. The day ends with a third and final pair of tests at the Pro-Racing complex. Competitors return to Villa Carlos Paz at 20.23 after 129.39km of action.