The first leg of the Rally Finland took place today in the region of Jyv?skyl?. After last night's super special stage, the competitors started early this morning for a programme which included nine timed tests.

Tonight the three Xsaras of Colin McRae / Derek Ringer, Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti and S?bastien Loeb / Daniel Elena returned to the final service lying fourth, sixth and seventh respectively.

Having experienced absolutely no technical problems all day, the Citro?n team was satisfied with these solid positions.

In 2002, the Xsara conceeded an average of nine tenth of seconds per kilometre to the fastest time, but this year the gap was divided by three.

"No doubt we have made enormous progress," analysed team boss Guy Frequelin. "However we are still a bit more than three tenths of a second per kilometre behind the front-runners and in these conditions, it will be difficult to take part in the fight for the win."

Colin McRae added: "In the first long stage, I wasn't really on the right pace but then I felt confident with the car and I had clean runs, without making any mistakes. I hardly see how I could go faster."

Recording his thirteenth participation in the Finnish event, Carlos Sainz is aware how difficult this event can be.

"The stages are extremely fast with a lot of blind crests, corners and jumps," noted the Spaniard." The knowledge of the terrain is an important parameter and absolute confidence in the car is also required. Thanks to improved settings we had this confidence. For the last loop, it reached 100 per cent."

Before the super special stage, Sebastien Loeb commented: "For the first time this season, I haven't set comparable times to my team-mates. Maybe I'm doing it too much sideways, and I've realised I brake too early. However, I think I'm improving."

As proof, Seb' set the fourth fastest time on stage 9, less than one second behind McRae, at an average speed of 130 km/h.