BP Ford number one driver, Marcus Gronholm has ended the opening leg of the Rally d'Italia Sardegna, the seventh round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, with a comfortable lead.
The Finn was in a class of his own this morning, quickest through all three tests, to build a 40-odd second advantage going into the mid-day service.
Furthermore although Sebastien Loeb
came back at him during the repeat runs through the tests this afternoon, the double world champion only conceded a few seconds and was second through both SS4 and SS5, before ending the day with the quickest time in SS6. Consequently he will go into the second leg 35.4 seconds in front. His only scare was a slight scrape with a gate post in SS3.
Loeb after losing out this morning on the first two tests, when he was only fifth quickest through both, charged back this afternoon, quickly dispensing with the second BP Ford
Focus of Mikko Hirvonen
and then attempted to close the gap to Gronholm. However despite two stage wins in SS4 and SS5, he could only reduce the gap by around 5 seconds.
Hirvonen meanwhile has slipped back and is in a pretty lonely third, 40 seconds or so adrift of Loeb and a similar amount up on Henning Solberg, who is fourth for the OMV Peugeot Norway WRT. The Norwegian enjoyed a good day and apart from a stall at the start of SS6, had no real problems.
Further-down the order, Daniel Sordo
is fifth, on only his third gravel event with the Xsara WRC. Although he was unhappy with the set-up on his car in the morning, he seemed to make progress as the day went on and was fourth and fifth through the final two tests.
Gigi Galli is next up in sixth position, the Italian had bad start when he spun in the first stage, but apart from that, has gone OK, although at times he was less than pleased with the choice of his tyres.
Chris Atkinson in contrast began well for Subaru and was second quickest on the opening stage, however as the day went on he slipped down the order and now overnights in seventh position, with Xavier Pons eighth and on course to take the final drivers' points' paying position. The Kronos Citroen
driver, like his team-mate, Sordo, was unhappy with his car early on, but was somewhat more pleased on the second loop.
Jussi Valimaki and Kristian Sohlberg rounded out the top eight, with Francois Duval just on the outskirts of the top ten in eleventh. The Belgian is the top Skoda runner, narrowly ahead of OMV Peugeot's Manfred Stohl, who suffered from brake and tyres problems early in the day.