RALLYING: Gronholm holds slim lead over Solberg in Sweden

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The Independent Online
MARCUS GRONHOLM held off Petter Solberg to claim the lead at the end of the first day of the Swedish Rally.

Gronholm, twice the world champion, lost the lead to Solberg on the penultimate stage of the day but on the final short stage he clawed back time to hold a slender 0.2sec lead. The Subaru driver Solberg was left cursing a set-up change after winning the first two stages, which left his car struggling and cost him valuable time this morning.

"The first stages went very well but I made some changes to the suspension before the third and lost a lot of time," he said. "The car was all over the place and was bottoming out a bit too much at the front - I won't be doing that again."

He recovered from that problem to post consistently fast times and creep ahead of Gronholm on stage six before dropping back again on stage seven. The world champion Sebastien Loeb is running third, 10sec behind Gronholm's Peugeot, after enduring a troubled run on stage four. He lost nearly 20sec and slipped into third as Solberg leapfrogged him.

The Citroen driver fought back to win stage five and stay in contention but he faces a challenge for his podium spot from the surprise contender Gianluigi Galli. The Mitsubishi driver has continued the team's good start to the season and won stage six to close the gap on Loeb, although he admitted to being surprised by his pace.

"Everything is fantastic for us," Galli said. "Our position is more than I expected, but we made the right tyre choice and I have a feeling of confidence. We only had one small problem in the first stage; otherwise, everything has been good."

The Citroen of Francois Duval and Peugeot's Markko Martin head into leg two in fifth and sixth place respectively.

The Manx driver Mark Higgins made a strong start to his production car championship, setting consistently quick times to sit second in his Subaru, 25.5sec behind Toshihiro Arai after six stages.

Darlington's Guy Wilks, who is using the event to gain experience as it does not count towards his junior championship title attempt, suffered a disastrous stage three when he lost over three minutes. After six stages he is 36th in his Suzuki.