Peugeot's asphalt ace Gilles Panizzi has finished the opening day of the Catalunya Rally in a strong fourth position, just 33 seconds off the lead.

Richard Burns is sixth overnight, while reigning World Champion Marcus Gronholm ends the leg in tenth position.

Catalunya is the penultimate round of the World Rally Championship and the last of the three asphalt rounds held in October. Conditions today were misty in the morning, but became dry and bright for the rest of the leg, which was the longest of the whole rally.

Like his team-mates, Panizzi lost time by running on tyres which were too soft for this morning's opening loop of three stages. But a brilliant recovery drive saw him set two fastest stage times and return to parc ferme in Lloret de Mar less than three seconds off a podium place. Panizzi is now confident of another strong performance tomorrow.

"This morning was a disaster: the tyres were way too soft and I had no grip," said Panizzi, "But once I was able to run on the right tyres, the car came to me. I had a very good feeling with my 206 WRC in the afternoon and I was able to push hard. Now I'm hoping for another strong run tomorrow."

Burns used slightly different tyres for this morning's stages and got his favourite asphalt rally off to a promising start. He climbed as high as fourth place, but lost more than 30 seconds after sliding off on SS7. There was no mechanical damage to the car, so he was able to keep going at a competitive pace and has every chance of improving his position tomorrow.

"We got off to a good start this morning and I had a nice feeling with the car. But unfortunately we lost a lot of time on SS7," noted the Brit, "On the fourth or fifth corner I braked normally but we went straight on - maybe my tyres were cold or something. We slid into a field, and it took a long time to get the car going again. But although the exhaust was flattened, there was no real damage."

Gronholm meanwhile suffered from a chronic lack of grip this morning, and tried different settings during the afternoon. He fought back bravely, but was not able to climb as high up the leaderboard as he had hoped. Nonetheless, he is determined to maximise his efforts tomorrow and the Finn is already only 16 seconds off a points-scoring position.

"Today's not been good to me," commented the Finn, "We were never able to find a good feeling with the car. I can't really attack when it's like this and I didn't want to change any of the settings too drastically. This afternoon we concentrated on not making mistakes and getting to the end. But tomorrow is another day and there is a long way left to go."

Tomorrow's action consists of 131 competitive kilometres run over eight more special stages. The first car leaves parc ferme in Lloret de Mar at 0700 and returns at 1808.



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