One of the legendary European rallies kicked off the 2006 season today, with Marcus Gronholm (above) leading at the end of the first day, in only his first rally for the factory Ford team.

Gronholm took the lead after last year's winner (and world champion) Sebastien Loeb crashed his Citroen Xsara on the sixth and final special stage of the day. Australian Chris Atkinson ( Subaru) lies second, with Toni Gardemeister ( Peugeot) rounding out the top three.

Icy roads and changeable weather conditions make tire choice critical on the predominantly asphalt roads of the Monte Carlo Rally, and conditions this year were further complicated by heavy traffic in the early stages. The rally runs through January 23.

Up to the minute coverage of the rally, including video clips, is available at the WRC site and from Eurosport, among others.

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