Ford Focus RS WRC 03 driver Markko Martin set the pace on the first three stages of the Rally of Finland on Friday, but Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm was hot on his heels.

Ford Focus RS WRC 03 driver Markko Martin set the pace on the first three stages of the Rally of Finland on Friday, but Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm was hot on his heels.


Martin was 3,7 seconds quicker than the field on the 20,17-kilometre Kruununpera 1 stage. "I want to make some changes now at service - to make the car even faster," the Estonian said. "I took some risks on the first stage today but not on the second stage. The start of it was all new, so I wasn't too sure about it. But I'd say it wasn't a bad start."


Gronholm was second quickest in the top Peugeot 206 and is lying second overall - 4,1 seconds behind Martin.


The Finn wasn't particularly happy with his driving on SS3. Although he thinks he could have matched Martin's time, he admitted that he would have struggled to beat it.


"I expected a very tough fight," Gronholm said. "But OK - I'm still quite confident. I'm driving flat out because that's the pace you need here."


Colin McRae was third fastest and appears to be a podium contender again in the Citroën.


Peugeot's Richard Burns was fourth, ahead of the Citroën of Carlos Sainz and Subaru's Petter Solberg - who were tied for fifth best time in SS3. Solberg retains third place overall, but McRae's just 0,3 seconds behind him.


Solberg's team-mate, Tommi Makinen, was seventh best ahead of top local wild card Janne Tuohino and Citroën's Rally Deutschland winner Sebastien Loeb.


Harri Rovanpera's Peugoet hit a rock in stage one, which broke the rear suspension and tipped his car backwards into a tree. In SS3, he nursed his crippled 206 through to the stage finish, losing another two and a half minutes on the way.


Frenchman Didier Auriol is already on his way home, deciding that the pain of his shoulder injury made it impossible to drive. His retirement will have a knock-on effect on the development of the Skoda Fabia WRC, as every kilometre is crucial to the Czech squad's progress.