BP Ford team leader, Marcus Gronholm has ended the opening leg of the Neste Oil Rally Finland on Friday on top and on course to win his home round for the sixth time in seven years.

Although Sebastien Loeb took the early lead following the first run through the spectator super special at the Killeri trotting track on Thursday night, it was Gronholm who dominated as the crews headed into the forests for the first loop of tests on Friday morning, where heavy rain greeting the 101 starters.

Indeed the Finn was 8.5 seconds up on his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen through the opening 24.98 Lankamaa stage [SS2]. He was also quicker through the 11.82 km Laukaa stage [SS3], just 0.1 seconds up on Hirvonen. Gronholm then claimed a clean sweep of the morning stages by flying over the famous jumps of the 7.57 km Ruuhimaki test [SS4], 0.9 seconds faster than his closest rival, Loeb. Heading into the mid-day service he enjoyed an 11.7 second lead.

Although Loeb won the next two tests [SS5 and SS6], Gronholm was second quickest through both and actually extended his overall advantage to 13 seconds. He then proceeded to put in a charge through SS7 and in dry conditions increased his cushion to 17.2 seconds following Vellipohja 2. However rain once again descended on SS8 - Mokkipera 2 - and while Loeb got through in the dry, most of the other competitors were not so luckily, Gronholm having to settle for the second best time, 5.3 seconds slower.

Following the repeat run through the Killeri super-special [SS9], Marcus will go into the second day 12 seconds in front.

Loeb meanwhile reckoned that he had been overly cautious on the first loop, although he made up for that in the afternoon winning three of the four 'proper' tests. The Kronos driver was the only one, other than Gronholm, who won a stage and as such it is no surprise he finished up in second, his closest challenger.

BP Ford number two driver, Hirvonen was right up there with Gronholm early on, however he slipped back as the leg progressed and eventually ended the day more than 40 seconds off the lead and 30 seconds behind Loeb. Mikko reckoned he had pushed too hard in the middle loop and although he was third through SS7, he could only post the seventh best time in SS8, a stall at the start costing him valuable seconds.

Petter Solberg finished the day just under 10 seconds off the final place on the rostrum, the Subaru ace posting some solid times, but generally speaking, unable to match Gronholm and Loeb. It appears that the Impreza is still not quick enough to match the Focus or the Xsara, despite all the work the Banbury-based squad have done over the summer.

Further-down the order, Henning Solberg started off a bit slow but has improved as the day went on, managing to post the third best time on both runs through Mokkipera. He is though some way off his brother, about a minute further back in his OMV-backed Peugeot 307.

The second works Subaru entry is next up - Chris Atkinson sixth overall. The Aussie was in the top five throughout much of the day until his engine began to overheat in the third loop in SS7. In a rutted section Atkinson unluckily coated his car's radiator in mud and gravel and the engine's control systems automatically cut power to keep the temperature under control. As such he was only 14th fastest and lost a good 30 seconds. He ended the day 29.9 seconds off Henning Solberg.

Daniel Sordo is on course to notch up two points for seventh, the Spaniard having been up and down the order. Following SS3 he was eighth, however he lost quite a bit of time in SS4 when he had problems with his windscreen wipers and lost concentration. As a result he dropped to 15th overall before battling his way back up on the second and third loops, to conclude leg 1 around 5 seconds up on Gigi Galli in eighth. The Italian lost time with a spin in SS6, but is still currently on course to pick up the final drivers' points, in his Pirelli-backed Peugeot 307.

Mitsubishi privateer, Jussi Valimaki and Citroen privateer, Janne Tuohino round out the top ten, the latter somewhat slowed early on after intercom problems left him unable to hear his pacenotes in the first 10 kilometres on SS2.

Of the rest, Juho Hanninen lies just outside the top ten, followed by Kronos third driver, Xavier Pons, Skoda's Jan Kopecky and Jari-Matti Latvala, who is competing in a Toyota Corolla WRC. Matthew Wilson completes the top 15, the Brit having lost over 3 minutes on SS2, when he had to stop to change a puncture on his Stobart VK Ford Focus. Wilson's team-mate, Kosti Katajamaki also had problems and despite running as high as eighth at one point, ultimately ended the day very disappointed, following mechanical issues on SS7. He was the sole 'works' retirement. It is not yet known if he will be able to re-start under the SupeRally format on Saturday.

Manfred Stohl also had problems in his manufacturer 2 entry, the Austrian losing bucket loads of time in the second loop following intercom issues in SS5, which meant he couldn't hear his co-driver and then an off in SS6. The latter incident cost the OMV Peugeot ace more than 5 minutes. He ended the day in 18th position.

In the Junior World Rally Championship category, Rallye Deutschland class winner, Kris Meeke has pretty much picked up where he left off. The Brit won four of the days' seven forest stages in his Citroen C2 S1600 and will go into the second leg 10.2 seconds up on Urmo Aava. Aava heads a trio of Suzuki Swift's, with SS1 winner, Per-Gunnar Andersson third and Guy Wilks fourth. Current JWRC points leader, Patrik Sandell has had a bit of a nightmare day and after running fifth early on, dropped down the order and ended up outside the top ten in 13th position.

Leg 2 begins on Saturday at 07.06 hours local time - eight stages lay in wait, around 145 competitive kilometres.