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.
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.