The 2004 Uddeholm Swedish Rally got underway last night with a ceremonial start in the center of Karlstad and, as ever, hundreds of fans were lured by WRC fever in the frosty town of Karlstad.

However, it was not until this morning that the real action began when the crews left at 06:30 hrs for the 85 kilometre drive north to Hagfors, base for all three days of the rally.

Today's leg covers five special stages and 145.80 competitive kilometers but conditions will be tricky for the 70 crews who took the start. The big thaw continues, temperatures were only just below freezing this morning and no snowfall overnight left the opening stage with forty percent gravel. Marcus Gronholm has however taken the early lead in the Peugeot 307 WRC, the Finn setting a blistering 125.85 kph average speed in the opening stage to hold a narrow 3.3 second lead over Carlos Sainz after two stages.

The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports crews have had a difficult morning and the lead pairing of Gilles and Herv? Panizzi is currently 16th overall after struggling with gear selection problems. Back in service, the team changed the transmission and the French duo will be looking for a clean run through the longest stage of the event [SS3].

Team-mates Kristian Sohlberg and Kaj Lindstr?m fared less well, two spins in the first stage being followed by more problems in the second.

"Five kilometers before the finish of the stage I started to brake and the wheels just locked up," commented Kristian. "We went off the road and got stuck in a snow bank."

In addition to the front-end cosmetic repairs to the Lancer WRC04, the Mitsubishi technicians also changed the transmission in the Finn's car.

The crews now head to the gigantic 52.57 kilometre Granberget stage, the second longest in the whole FIA World Rally Championship. The stage is run twice during the leg, split by service back in Hagfors.



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