Gronholm dominates

Gronholm dominates on day one in New Zealand
By Eurosport

17/11/2006 at 06:13Updated

Marcus Gronholm dominated day one of Rally New Zealand as he won every one of the five stages on offer to open up a 31.2 second lead over his Ford team-mate and countryman Mikko Hirvonen.

Gronholm, 38, may have seen his chances of winning the drivers" championship vanish when he failed to make the podium in Australia two weeks ago, but he was certainly not letting that affect him as he stormed ahead from the word go.

Gronholm said: "Okay, so I had no problems. It was good, quite wet in morning, but the second run was dry with good grip.

"I think if it all stays together with the technical stuff and we keep the cars on the road, I really hope we can do it and win on Sunday."

Australia winner Hirvonen is a comfortable second, meaning Ford will take their first manufacturers' title on Sunday if the positions remain the same until the end.

Third is Spaniard Dani Sordo in the leading Kronos Citroen. Sordo, who has never taken a podium finish on a gravel event, lay fourth for most of the afternoon, but snatched third on the final stage of the day from Manfred Stohl.

Sordo's advantage over Austrian Stohl is only 2.2 seconds though, and with the Austrian's Bozian Peugeot cured of the engine problem that blighted his afternoon, a great battle is in store on Saturday.

Fifth is the second Kronos Citroen of Xavier Pons, but he is only six seconds ahead of the Subaru of Petter Solberg – who bemoaned the lack of grip from his Pirelli tyres throughout the day.

His older brother Henning Solberg is almost a minute behind in the second Bozian Peugeot, while Argentine Luis Perez Companc is having the best drive of his WRC career in eighth in his M-Sport Ford.

There had been a battle for ninth between Companc's British team-mate Matthew Wilson and Subaru's Chris Atkinson – who admitted he had totally screwed up the set-up of his car.

The fight was over by stage three though, as Wilson ground to a halt with his engine overheating. It remains to be seen whether he will re-join under Super Rally rules on Saturday.

Wilson's retirement allowed Group N leader Juho Hanninen into tenth place after an extremely impressive run on the event by the Mitsubishi-driving Finn, who had never even been to New Zealand before Tuesday.

Moto GP superstar Valentino Rossi – who is having his first WRC drive for almost four years – began the day with a poor first stage – dropping over two and a half minutes to the leaders.

But the Italian made steady progress throughout the day, climbing up from 33rd to 24th place. The Subaru privateer's improvement culminated in him setting the 13th best time on the fifth and final stage of the day.