BP Ford team leader, Marcus Gronholm has ended the opening day of the Rally of Turkey, the thirteenth round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, in P1 in his Focus RS WRC car.
The day's action though started later than originally planned after SS1 and SS2 were both cancelled as a result of poor weather conditions, which would have prevented the medical helicopter from landing had there been an accident in either Perge 1 or Myra 1. SS3 - the 9.90 kilometre run through Kumluca, thus kicked off proceedings, Gronholm obliterating his rivals, splashing and sliding his way into the lead, 24.9 seconds up on Petter Solberg, who was 'best of the rest' for Subaru.
The second loop was also disrupted by the weather and SS4 was abandoned because the amount of mud made it almost impassable. The action thus resumed with SS5, although this test had to be shortened again because of the poor road surface. The crews thus made their way to a new start line, close to the original midpoint and by this time, the rain had stopped and the stage surface quickly started to dry out. Gronholm though was again quickest to further increase his lead to 30.8 seconds and he then pulled off the hat-trick in SS6, to head back to the second service 37 seconds up on 'Hollywood'.
In the final loop, the momentum swung back in Petter's favour and the Norwegian stormed through SS7 and SS8, Gronholm having to settle for the fifth and third best times. As a result his lead was cut back to 28 seconds, and while he was also slower in the Akdeniz University super special, he only lost 1.9 seconds. Marcus will thus go into the second day on Saturday, with a comfortable 26.1 second lead.
The Finn was therefore pleased with his form, although he reckoned he wasn't pushing as hard as he would have been had he been up against his main nemesis, Sebastien Loeb.
Petter meanwhile was delighted to end the day second - and more importantly to have shown some real pace. Indeed after his season to date - three stages wins, a second quickest time and a joint fourth best time was a big boost for him and the whole Subaru team. Furthermore while there is still some way to go, 'Hollywood' may yet even be in contention for the win. Regardless a solid runners-up spot will still be a good result.
Mikko Hirvonen is next up in third in the second BP Ford Focus, 20 seconds or so further back, although he will go into second leg only marginally up on Henning Solberg. Indeed following SS9 only 0.7 seconds separated the two. Henning put in a charge in the afternoon and will be in a strong position now to try and claim his very first podium finish.
Further down the leaderboard, Kosti Katajamaki shone in the difficult conditions and ended the day fifth overall for Ford's 'B' team. The Finn posted a number of competitive stage times and even managed the third best time on the opening stage. It is the first time this season the Stobart VK squad have been so well placed.
Of the rest, Britain's Colin McRae was sixth - the Scot having been drafted in to sub for Loeb, who broke his arm in a mountain bike accident three weeks ago. McRae had no real problems all day, although his return to the WRC hasn't really been a fairytale. Indeed while he was fourth for much of the opening leg, he slipped back in the final loop, when he could only post the ninth best time in SS7 and SS8, after gambling on the wrong tyres. The Scot had hoped conditions would dry out more, but unfortunately he opted for too few cuts and conceded loads and loads of time. Although he was joint second quickest in the super special and moved back in front of Chris Atkinson, he is now some way of a top three finish, 35 seconds behind Hirvonen.