World Championship leader Richard Burns is spearheading Peugeot's attack at the end of day one of Rally Australia. Burns lies third overnight, just 39.1 seconds behind the rally leader.

Peugeot driver Harri Rovanpera has ended the opening leg in eighth place and is in a strong position to attack tomorrow.

Unfortunately, their team-mate Marcus Gronholm is not so lucky. He decided in consultation with the team management to retire after stage nine, having dropped more than 16 minutes after going off the road on the previous stage.

Today's action saw the crews complete nine tricky stages south of Perth. Conditions were dry throughout the day, and the leading cars had to contend with a slippery road surface caused by the loose gravel that is so typical of Rally Australia.

Burns was handicapped by running first on the road and sweeping it clean of 'marbles' for the cars behind him. Nonetheless, the Englishman still managed a neat and problem-free run throughout the day. He had no mechanical problems and is optimistic of capitalising on his good work tomorrow, with the advantage of a better road position.

"We've been running first on the road all day, so to end up third at the end of it is better than I expected," noted Burns, "The car has felt great, and we've just been concentrating on not making any mistakes. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's stages and I think they will suit me well."

Rovanpera suffered from brake problems during the opening loop of stages, after feeling the pedal go soft at the end of today's first stage. He drove carefully to be sure of getting the car back to service, but was hampered by an incorrect choice of tyres later in the day. The Finn drove sensibly to minimise the time loss, and his 206 WRC ran reliably throughout the leg.

"On the last stages I was on completely the wrong tyre, much too hard," said Rovanpera, "But it was very difficult to make the right choices today because the surfaces were so unpredictable. The good thing is that I have managed to stay out of trouble and I have every chance of pushing hard to improve my position tomorrow."

Gronholm meanwhile took the lead on the opening stage of the day, and set two fastest stage times to open up a 16-second advantage heading into stage eight. But he slid into a ditch on a tight left-hand uphill hairpin close to the end of the stage, dropping more than 16 minutes. The car was undamaged, but Gronholm and the team decided that there was no point in him continuing.

"I prefer to concentrate my energies on the remaining four rounds of the World Championship now, as it would have been impossible to get a good result here after all that time was lost," commented the Finn, "It was a totally stupid mistake - especially as I was not even pushing hard. We just got too tight into the hairpin and I went off backwards at less than 10 kilometres an hour. The front wheels were still on the road but the car was stuck. Eventually I managed to get going again, but we took the decision to stop after the next stage."

Tomorrow the competitors will tackle 10 more stages, including two runs over the spectator superspecial at Gloucester Park. The first car leaves Parc Ferme in Perth at 0730 and returns at 1958 after 124 competitive kilometres.



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