The all-new Peugeot 307 WRC has made a flying start to its world rally career by leading the Monte Carlo Rally throughout four stages of leg one, thanks to Marcus Gronholm.

The Finn is now third overnight, less than half a second off second place. His team-mate Freddy Loix ends the day ninth.

Monte Carlo, which opens the 2004 World Rally Championship, is the oldest and most prestigious event of the entire calendar. It is characterised by constantly changing weather conditions, which makes tyre choice particularly tricky. Today was mostly dry, with a light dusting of snow on the morning's stages that rapidly melted during the afternoon.

Gronholm's 307 WRC won the first stage it ever contested, which was SS2 after the opening test was cancelled due to spectator overcrowding. Despite the slippery surfaces, the Finn was delighted with his new car's performance. But he hit problems three kilometres from the end of SS4, when his 307 WRC became jammed in third gear. Gronholm had to cut corners at speed in order to conserve momentum and not let the revs drop. An impact with a tree branch shattered the windscreen, but he left the stage with his lead intact. The Peugeot mechanics changed the gearbox and windscreen at service, and Marcus went on to set another fastest time. But the Finn didn't feel confident with his tyre choice on the final stage, and he dropped to third overall.

"This morning's stage was much more slippery than I thought, but the performance of the 307 is fantastic," said Gronholm, "We had a very good feeling with the car all day, but the problem on SS4 worried me. We were lucky that it happened close to the end of the stage, but after it was fixed we could keep going. The last stage wasn't so good, but I'm happy with the way that everything has gone today. We're in a good position to fight tomorrow."

Loix made some changes to his car's set-up during the opening stage, which robbed him of confidence. He made some more changes throughout the day and his feeling with the car rapidly improved. On the final stage the Belgian set second-fastest time, and he feels confident about improving his position tomorrow.

"It wasn't a perfect start for me as I made a mistake in changing the set-up of the car during the first stage," noted Loix, "I didn't feel very comfortable after that, but during the next loop of stages it got better. On the last two stages I had a good tyre choice and I was able to push hard. I've got a nice feeling with the car now, and I hope it can be like that tomorrow as well."

Leg two of the Monte Carlo Rally gets underway at 0640, and covers five special stages. The opening stage is the longest of the rally at 34 kilometres, and the cars return to parc ferme at 1923 [all times local].

 

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