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  Friday, 15 November, 2002, 16:26 GMT
Gronholm dominates in the forests
Marcus Gronholm on the first day of the Rally GB
Gronholm was in superb form in the slippery conditions

World champion Marcus Gronholm has driven a scintillating first day of the Rally of Great Britain, setting fastest times on every forest stage.

The Finn has an advantage of 48.3 seconds after a day on which his closest rivals ended their own hopes through mistakes on the slippery forest tracks.

Gronholm was only upstaged in the final stage of the day - the Cardiff super-special in the city centre which was won by Petter Solberg.

What are likely to be the defining moments of the rally happened early on Friday morning when Britons Richard Burns and Colin McRae both ran off the road and lost substantial time.

Burns, Gronholm's team-mate and arch-rival, lost more than a minute and a half after damaging his car's engine in an incident on the rally's third stage, Trawscoed.

Open in new window  :  GB Rally stage guide

Gronholm had taken the lead on stage two of the rally, the first stage on Friday morning - but by only 0.5 seconds from the Englishman.

Burns' error gifted Gronholm a cushion of 30 seconds over his closest rival, and the Finn extended his lead with fastest times through stages five and six after stage four was cancelled.

After the first leg, Gronholm leads from Subaru's Solberg, with Ford driver Markko Martin a further 2.7secs adrift.

Barring a mistake or a breakdown, it is now inconceivable that Gronholm will lose the rally, but the Finn has played down his chances of victory.

He said: "It should be OK provided I don't make a mistake. The problem is it is very easy to make a mistake here."

Estonian Markko Martin in his Ford
Martin is in an impressive third place

Ford's Carlos Sainz is fourth, ahead of the Peugeot of Harri Rovanpera and the other Subaru of Tommi Makinen.

Burns has climbed back up to eighth, two minutes behind Gronholm, after dropping as low as 12th after his accident.

McRae put himself out of the reckoning even before Burns, missing a junction on the run through Brechfa forest, the first stage on Friday morning and the second of the rally.

The Scot's Ford is one place ahead of Burns, and 1:58.7 behind Gronholm.

Barring a miracle, Burns will now set an unenviable record - this will be the first time that a reigning world champion has failed to win a rally when he had a competitive car.

World motorcycle champion Valentino Rossi's attempt to master the difficult event has already come unstuck.

After impressing on the superspecial on Thursday, his Peugeot crashed out on the first forest stage on Friday morning.


Leading positions after special stage seven:

1 Marcus Gronholm (Fin) Peugeot one hour seven minutes 06.6 seconds
2 Petter Solberg (Nor) Subaru 48.3 seconds behind
3 Markko Martin (Est) Ford at 51.0
4 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Ford at 1:04.9
5 Harri Rovanpera (Fin) Peugeot at 1:44.9
6 Tommi Makinen (Fin) Subaru at 1:48.6
7 Colin McRae (GB) Ford at 1:59.5
8 Richard Burns (GB) Peugeot at 2:01.4
9 Sebastian Loeb (Fra) Citroen at 2:10.5
10 Freddy Loix (Bel) Hyundai at 2:51.3

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Five Live's Jonathan Legard
"Gronholm could be driving his armchair - he looks that comfortable"
Peugeot's Richard Burns
"It's a mistake and all I can do is carry on"
RALLY GB STAGE GUIDE
SEASON SO FAR
TOP TEAMS AND DRIVERS


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Day Four

Day Three

Day Two

Day One

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Links to more World Rally stories are at the foot of the page.


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