Gronholm leads Monte Carlo rally

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Marcus Gronholm of Finland took the lead at the Monte Carlo Rally on Friday.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:39 IST
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Monte Carlo:

Marcus Gronholm of Finland took the lead at the Monte Carlo Rally on Friday after two-time defending champion Sebastien Loeb crashed in the final special stage. Loeb had dominated the opening stages of the rally, setting a fast pace and leading by more than a minute after the fourth special. But on the sixth and final special stage he lost control of his privately owned Kronos car on an icy mountain road and failed to finish - incurring a five-minute time penalty. Gronholm, making his debut for Ford Focus, won the second and sixth stages and leads Subaru's Chris Atkinson of Australia by 1 minute, 23.7 seconds. Toni Gardemeister is third with Peugeot. ''I was lucky with my tire choices, but this afternoon I made a couple of mistakes,'' Atkinson said. '' I'm trying to play it safe. Second is good, but I'm sure the others will be pushing hard tomorrow.'' Loeb is in eighth place overall but is nearly four minutes behind Gronholm. Under race regulations, Loeb can rejoin the race on Saturday, if his Citroen factory car can be repaired. Only 11 cars completed the first two stages because of severe traffic problems, and the third stage was canceled with racers given nominal times. ''The conditions are awful, I hate them,'' said Gronholm, who joined Ford after seven years with Peugeot. ''I have been driving like my grandmother. Still, it's my first time out with Ford and I'm leading the Monte Carlo rally that's not so bad.'' Petter Solberg of Norway, the 2003 champion, retired from the race after the final stage with an oil leak that left his engine irreparably damaged. (AP)