Peugeot's reigning World Champion Marcus Gronholm is rapidly turning into an asphalt expert, with an excellent third place at the finish of leg one in Corsica.

The Finn ends the opening day of the Rallye de France - Tour of Corsica just 5.3 seconds off the lead, and feels confident of another strong performance tomorrow.

World Championship leader Richard Burns is sixth at the end of the leg, with the third factory Peugeot of Gilles Panizzi in eleventh overnight.

Gronholm had a trouble-free day and enjoyed the challenge of the twisty asphalt roads in Corsica: widely renowned as the most fearsome sealed-surface stages on the calendar. The roads are narrow and extremely twisty, alternating fast sections with slower and more technical stages. The weather remained dry today, but rain is a strong possibility for tomorrow.

"I think I can go a little bit quicker tomorrow, but not very much: I'm already quite close to the maximum," said Gronholm, "The pace has been very fast today but I'm happy as we're in close touch with the leaders. The big question mark now will be the weather: if it rains there could be some dramatic changes."

Burns was also pleased with his day's work, after enjoying a reliable run throughout all six of today's stages. His Peugeot 206 WRC was faultless, and he is confident that he can improve on his position tomorrow. After 95 competitive kilometres, the Englishman is only one second away from fifth place and only 19.5 seconds off the lead.

"We lost a little bit of time on the second loop of stages because of loose gravel on the road, but generally we had no problems," noted Burns, "We've got a couple of extra things we can try tomorrow, with new anti-roll bar settings, but nothing revolutionary. If we can keep up this pace, I'm happy."

Gilles Panizzi struggled with set-up problems in the third 206 WRC, and was planning more changes to his car at tonight's final service. But he is confident that he can attack tomorrow if the car is to his liking.

"It's been a very difficult day," said Gilles. "I've been struggling all the time with a car that feels very aggressive and difficult to control. So far we've not found a solution but hopefully we can do something now to make it better."

Peugeot also had something new to cheer about today when young Frenchman Alexandre Bengue set a fourth-fastest time on SS5 in his private customer-specification 206 WRC. The 27 year-old ends the leg in ninth overall.

Tomorrow is the longest day of the Rallye de France - Tour of Corsica, with crews tackling six more stages totalling 188 competitive kilometres. The first car gets underway from Ajaccio at 0715 and returns to Parc Ferme at 1928.



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