Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm has taken the advantage following the opening leg of the Rally Finland, the double world champion taking the lead on SS3 and going on to win five of the days eight stages.

Heading into the overnight service Gronholm has a slender 5.8 second advantage over Sebastien Loeb, who himself won two tests and remains firmly in contention.

Gronholm enjoyed a largely trouble-free day and his only problem came when a heavy landing over a jump near the start of SS5 injured his co-driver, Timo Rautiainen's back. The pain was so intense that Gronholm had to tackle the rest of the stage and the next, driving blind without any pace notes. His lead dropped to just 1.8 seconds as a result, but Rautiainen recovered following treatment in Service C from the team's doctor and osteopath and Gronholm widened his lead again in the afternoon.

Related Articles

Loeb also had few problems, apart from a stall in SS5, which cost him some precious seconds and like Gronholm, his co-driver, Daniel Elena was somewhat worse for wear following that fifth test - an issue that afflicted a number of the co-pilots, although thankfully early indications suggest that most suffered just heavy bruising.

Markko Martin took third spot in the second Peugeot 307, the Estonian climbing on to the provision podium when Petter Solberg narrowly avoided disaster after losing the boot lid and rear spoiler in SS8. The lack of downforce caused the Subaru to nose-dive after a jump and the Norwegian ended up skidding down a ditch before rejoining the road. Despite significant panel damage, Solberg was able to continue, albeit having lost quite a bit of time.

Toni Gardemeister holds fourth in the lead Ford, although the Finn has complained the Focus has been sliding too much in the wet and damp conditions. He nevertheless overhauled Solberg in the final super special stage. Less than 5 seconds separates Martin, Gardemeister and Solberg, in third, fourth and fifth.

Mitsubishi ace Harri Rovanpera struggled all day with gear ratios that were too long and as a result he is seventh, 40 seconds or so off, Mikko Hirvonen, who lies sixth and who is of course driving the second works Focus on this event, as regular Ford number two driver, Roman Kresta lacks experience of the Finnish roads.

Francois Duval is provisionally on course for the final point, the Belgian having a solid day in his Citroen. He is 15 seconds up on Henning Solberg, who is the top privateer runner, in ninth.

Skoda's Janne Tuohino rounds out the top ten, followed by Manfred Stohl, Kristian Sohlberg and Peugeot test driver, Sebastian Lindholm. Lindholm lost more than two minutes this morning with a broken brake hose on the second stage of the day.

The only other works drivers still going are: Armin Schwarz, in 14th and Kresta, who lost more than 10 minutes when his car cut out in SS7.

Three works drivers have retired from the leg - namely Gigi Galli, Jani Paasonen and Chris Atkinson.

Galli retired on the opening stage when he went off the road, ripping the front left wheel from his car. Paasonen also lost time in SS2, while trying to get passed Galli's car, however he then retired in SS5 after the car's right rear suspension broke when landing after a jump. Chris Atkinson meanwhile went out after hitting a rock on the inside of a corner on the previous test - SS4, breaking his front left suspension and steering. All are expected to re-start tomorrow.

In the Junior WRC, Britain's Kris Meeke has led from the off in his Citroen C2 and now has a comfortable 25.3 seconds lead over his Kronos Racing team-mate, Daniel Sordo. Urmo Aava lies third for Suzuki, but both of the new Swift's entered for Guy Wilks and Per-Gunnar Andersson have hit troubles, the former lies sixth after losing time with a puncture, while the latter has been forced out after crashing in SS5.

The action now resumes Saturday with the second leg.

Run over wide, flowing roads close to Jamsa, it covers 144.76km of competition and includes some of rallying's greatest stages. It includes two passes over the awesome Ouninpohja, a roller-coaster stretch of road full of blind crests and huge jumps and viewed by many as rallying's ultimate test of skill. This year it will be split into two tests for safety reasons. Competitors leave Jyvaskyla at 06.00 hours and return at 20.34 hours.