Following a ceremonial start in Karlstad town square last night, today saw the first proper competition on the 2002 Swedish Rally.

After cold and snowy weather before yesterday's shakedown, conditions warmed a little overnight, and at 0600hrs rain was falling in Karlstad as 75 starters left to drive 80kms north to the central service point at Hagfors.

Overnight snow on the day's five frozen stages made tyre choices critical and as weather conditions in Hagfors alternated between snow and rain, the extent of any thaw was difficult to predict.

Road position was also a key factor. Around 10cms of fresh snow was swept off the underlying hard-packed surface by the leading cars, which allowed those behind to benefit from the cleaner road.

Petter Solberg of the 555 Subaru World Rally Team holds a strong sixth place overnight, and, with the benefit of more experience in the conditions, he is looking to build on this tomorrow.

However after a difficult day running first on the road, his teammate Tommi Makinen retired from the rally after sustaining damage to his car's cooling system.

Makinen said: "On SS4 we cut a junction a little bit too much and hit one of the big fresh snow banks. We didn't slow down at all, we didn't realise anything was wrong, we just went through the corner. But after a few kilometres we realised that a lot of snow had gone onto the radiator and had completely blocked the cooling system - no air could get through. The engine started to drop power so we stopped to have a look, but there was nothing we could do. It's been a difficult day for us today we were unlucky with the weather and our position on the road - the snow was so deep that we lost a lot of time. For now we'll just concentrate on Corsica."

His team-mate Solberg noted: "It's been a day of ups and downs. The first stage this morning we did without any diff-locking and I think I would have been third without that. Then, on the penultimate stage our pace notes were not so good because there was so much snow on the recce."

"Apart from that it's been ok. I've been trying to drive in the lines of the cars in front - not taking any chances. I'm happy to be in 6th, the car has no problems at all. I'll try to go faster - I know I can. I've had a lot of good support today from the Norwegian fans - there's almost a flag on each junction and that's a good feeling."

Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm was fastest through the opening stage of the Swedish rally, his time was 4.2 seconds better than second-placed Thomas Radstrom and 5.5 seconds ahead of teammate Harri Rovanpera in third.

A heavy 20-minute snow-shower just before the stage began was bad news for championship leader Tommi Makinen and his Subaru colleague Petter Solberg. Both had elected to run on ice tyres for SS1 and SS2 and struggled to get traction on the 10cms of snow that now covered the road. Solberg also had to contend with a differential problem caused by a damaged micro-switch on the handbrake lever. The switch is meant to free the electronically controlled differential when the handbrake is applied, but a bent contact kept the differential inoperative for the whole stage. Makinen and Sebastien Loeb tied 17th fastest, while Solberg was 19th.

Rovanpera won the next stage - SS2 - with Gronholm second and the third factory Peugeot of Richard Burns in third. The three Peugeot drivers held the top three places overall.

Back on the stage Mitsubishi's Finnish snow expert Jani Paasonen was fourth and Petter Solberg, who had fixed his switch problem was fifth. Citroen's Thomas Radstrom spun his Xsara and lost 40 seconds before he could group re-join the road. Running first and second through the snow covered stages was not helping Tommi Makinen or Sebastien Loeb. Loeb was 24th fastest, while Makinen was 21st. After the stage crews headed back to the central service point at Hagfors for a 20-minute service and, crucially, the chance to change tyres ahead of the next stage.

On the longest stage of the rally [SS3], last year's Sweden winner Harri Rovanpera was quickest and took the overall lead from Marcus Gronholm who was second through. Richard Burns lost a minute in a snow-bank and slid to 18th - his third place was taken by Jani Paasonen in the Mitsubishi. Thomas Radstrom had another spin, but this time it was more than seven minutes before spectators could help him to get his marooned car back on the road. He dropped to 56th overall.

Second in Monte Carlo, Sebastien Loeb suffered on the snow, he spun, lost three minutes and dropped to 37th place. Subaru Impreza WRC driver Petter Solberg encountered a distracting tyre vibration from his front left and right-rear tyres and found the going tough, nevertheless he was 7th fastest. Tommi Makinen however was still struggling with the conditions at the head of the field. Continued snow showers meant he was sweeping the stages rather than attacking them and although the car was in fine mechanical form he was 19th overall.

Despite being outside the top 50 thanks to his earlier accident, Thomas Radstrom was fired up on SS4 and recorded the fastest time with his Citroen. Gronholm was second Colin McRae third and Petter Solberg fourth. Rovanpera continued to lead the rally, but a sixth fastest time on the stage allowed second-placed Gronholm to close the gap to 3 seconds.

Tommi Makinen's rally came to an end 9kms in after he cut a junction in his Subaru Impreza WRC and drove through a bank of soft snow. Unbeknown to him, the snow had packed tight into the air ducts around his car's radiator and as he continued to drive there was no airflow through the cooling system. He stopped to investigate later in the stage when the engine started to lose power, but by that time the damage had been done and he was forced to retire.

The final stage of leg one [SS5] saw the first fastest time of the day for Colin McRae - and a new leader for the rally. Gronholm overtook his Peugeot teammate Harri Rovanpera to take the lead - but by just one second. Rovanpera held second, with Colin McRae 41 seconds further back in third. Snow expert Jani Paasonen held overnight fourth in the Mitsubishi while Freddy Loix (driving with a broken ankle) was fifth.

Petter Solberg in the remaining Subaru held overnight sixth. Francois Delecour was the final driver to have snow-bank-related problem on the opening leg. His car left the road, drove through a snow-bank and landed in a ditch. It took 19 minutes before spectators could help him re-gain the road. He dropped from 19th to 67th.

Tomorrow's leg starts from Karlstad at 0600hrs and comprises six stages and 129 competitive kilometres. Once again the action is based on the snow covered roads around the Hagfors central service area, 80km to the north of Karlstad.

The first test of leg two is scheduled to start at 0855hrs, when crews will repeat today's 40km SS3 - the longest stage of the rally.