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It’s been a dramatic day at Telstra Rally Australia with the leading runners dropping like flies before the day was even three quarters over.

Australian Chris Atkinson took the lead on the event on the first special stage of the day, but before then Marcus Gronholm’s hopes of the World title had already virtually ended. The tall Finn rolled his Ford Focus just 5km into the first stage of the day, dropping over 10 minutes.

Gronholm clipped a rock on the inside of the corner, tipping the Focus on its roof, and he and co-driver Timo Rautiainen had to push the car back onto its wheels. Shortly after, British driver Matthew Wilson clipped the same rock, tearing a front wheel off his Focus.

Group N driver Gabriel Pozzo also hit the rock, nearly hitting Wilson’s car, and retiring on the spot.

Before all this even happened, Citroen’s Dani Sordo retired his Xsara World Rally Car with gearbox failure just 1km into the first stage.

But the retirements didn’t end there. Luis Perez Companc rolled his Ford Focus out of the rally, and then Henning Solberg destroyed his Peugeot after rolling some 50 metres off the road.

All the while Chris Atkinson led the rally, setting up a lead of nearly 14 seconds, but he, too, fell foul of the horrendously slippery conditions and put his Subaru Impreza off the road. Although the car wasn’t damaged, he and co-driver Glenn Macneall were stuck.

A small scrub fire then took hold and they were forced to stop following competitors to help put out the fire.

One of the first crews on the scene was Dean Herridge, the Group N leader in the event, who had to give up his fire extinguisher to put out the fire. The stage was stopped and then Herridge and two following competitors were not allowed to start the following stage (SS7) because they did not have fire extinguishers in their cars. They were then given notional times for the stages.

Atkinson’s retirement briefly put Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen into the lead, before the Subaru of Petter Solberg took over and led into the afternoon’s final stages.

Crews are now completing the final forest stage of the day, before returning to Perth for two runs around the Super Special Stage tonight.

Check out photos from Leg 1 in the RallySport Mag photo gallery.

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