Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm took an early lead in the New Zealand Rally on Friday, while Colin McRae was forced to retire during the sixth stage.

Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm took an early lead in the New Zealand Rally on Friday, while Colin McRae was forced to retire during the sixth stage.

Gronholm has a 38,1 second lead over Markko Martin in the all-new Focus car after the opening five special stages near Auckland. McRae, who was second overall in the standings ahead into the event, hit a bank on the side of the road and damaged his suspension. He had to withdraw his Citroen Xsara.

Gronholm's team-mate, Richard Burns, was fourth behind Norway's Petter Solberg in the Subaru.

The weather proved to be unpredictable after dry conditions had been predicted, but rain affected the later runners in the second and third stages.

"Everything is OK, but there is a lot of rain so I don't think road position makes any difference now. On the first stage it was damp with good grip, then we had real rain for nearly the whole of stage two and some of stage three. There is a lot of mud and water on the ground, but the car feels very good. You have to be quite careful," said Gronholm.

Citroen driver Carlos Sainz, who is in eighth place, said the weather changed everything. "At the end of the second stage I could hardly see where I was going, the rain was so hard," he said.

Hyundai’s Armin Schwarz was the race's first casualty, going off the road on the first stage.

Original article from Car