Gronholm earns slender lead

World champion Marcus Gronholm of Finland in a a Peugeot 206 led after the opening day of the Rally of Cyprus on Friday ahead of teammate and fellow countryman Harri Rovanpera.

Driving along twisting mountain roads in a demanding terrain, intense heat and dusty conditions, the 35-year-old Gronholm finished the day 6.8 seconds ahead of Rovanpera, with Norway's Petter Solberg in a Subaru in third place, 10.2 seconds back.

Rovanpera was fastest on the first three special stages only to be overtaken by Gronholm on the fourth and final stage of the day. Punctures due to the rough road surface and transmission overheating hit several drivers.

Richard Burns, the current championship leader, also in a Peugeot, was one of those slowed by a puncture. He had the disadvantage of starting first and thus acting as a "roadsweeper" on the dirt tracks, losing more time.

He finsihed the day eighth, 32.2 seconds behind Gronholm. "I have been losing about one second per kilometer.

The heat inside the car is terrible. The air conditioning automatically switches off when the engine overheats," said Burns, the 2001 World Champion.

Saturday will be the toughest and longest of the three day event with eight special stages.