Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm has taken the lead this morning on the Uddeholm Swedish Rally, the Finn now in front by 3.3 seconds from Citroen's Carlos Sainz, while Markko Martin completes the overall top three.

A brand new stage opened the event - Lidsbron [19.59km], but it was experienced driver and three-times past winner of the event, Gronholm, that had the edge.

He completed the 19.59km test fastest to take the first win of the day and an early lead. Sainz was second fastest and Sebastien Loeb third.

Despite numerous forecasts of overnight snow, there was none on the opening test and crews opted to run on studded ice tyres to cope with slippery gravel and ice conditions. Subaru's Petter Solberg made a solid start and was fifth fastest, while his team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was eighth.

No such luck for Mitsubishi driver Kristian Sohlberg. Making his WRC debut for his team, the 26-year-old Finn spun his Lancer twice and sustained cosmetic damage before crossing the finish 48.3 seconds off the lead.

SS2 saw Sainz take the honours and he completed the 19.21km stage 0.2 seconds ahead of second-fastest Martin. As three-times runner up of the event the Spaniard's aim was to break the Scandinavian stranglehold, but the Finns were right on the pace.

Ford nominated driver Janne Tuohino and Gronholm were fourth and fifth fastest, while Hirvonen was sixth fastest, finishing 2.7 seconds off the lead and ahead of drivers with far more experience.

"Not bad at all," said the Subaru new boy, "I could have been quicker on the first one, but I think my pace notes were a bit too slow. Not the way they were read out, but they were too safe. My speed on the second one came as a bit of a surprise as in the car it didn't seem like I was going fast enough. It was a surprise, but quite a pleasant one! The challenge now is to go for consistency. I know I've got the pace, I just need to keep it consistent."

Sohlberg's bad luck meanwhile continued. Struggling with transmission problems on his Lancer, the Finn locked the wheels of his car under braking 5km from the finish and went off the road into a snow back. He was able to continue, but dropped over four minutes.

Solberg was ninth fastest after a small spin cost him ten seconds and he crossed the finish to set exactly the same time as older brother Henning. After the stage was complete, crews returned to Hagfors for a scheduled service.

"For me this is okay and things seem quite good," said Solberg, "It's the best start to a Swedish rally I think I've ever had. The first stage was no problem at all, but on the second I had a spin and I think that cost me 10 or 15 seconds. People keep asking whether the lack of snow is a problem, but for me the conditions are perfect."

Current rally leader, Gronholm added: "I'm quite happy. The feeling through the first stage was good, but it was not so nice on the second stage. There was a lot of ice and gravel on the road that damages the studs, and I felt the car moving around a lot. It's difficult to be 100 per cent confident in these mixed conditions. There is definitely more to come from me and the car, but this is not a bad start."

The action now resumes at 1137 hours local time, with SS3 - Granberget 1 [52.57 km].

 

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