A bright but cold morning greeted the 117 competing crews who re-started from Cardiff following last night's super special stage. Ahead lay seven tough tests in the Welsh forests and the drama began immediately on the opening 13.67km St Gwynno.
Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi), one of four drivers harbouring hopes of the drivers' title on this final round of the FIA World Rally Championship, hit a rock 10km from the start. It broke the front left wishbone, the wheel came off and his challenge was over.
The shocks continued as Ford Martini drivers Colin McRae and Nicky Grist, heading the championship and leading the rally after the third stage, crashed and retired their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car in the next test, the 26.47km Rhondda.
"I made a mistake and we paid the penalty," said 33-year-old McRae. "We cut a fast right-hand bend and the car hit a hole on the edge of the road. We were launched into the air and rolled four or five times. The car was quite badly damaged. We were trying to win the championship and unfortunately that's what can happen in those situations. We came so near and I'm so sorry for the team who have put in so much effort. But Richard (Burns) must still survive for the next three days."
McRae, whose vision was briefly blurred after the accident, was taken to hospital in Swansea for a precautionary scan. Grist has a swollen arm while both suffered minor cut and bruises but were otherwise unhurt.
Team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya lost 15sec with a puncture in St Gwynno. The flailing rubber damaged a brake pipe and they stopped on the liaison section to make repairs. They incurred a 40sec penalty for arriving late at the next stage and drove two tests with no front brakes. They lie 13th. Mark Higgins and Bryan Thomas, driving a third Focus RS, started well and lie sixth, despite clipping a log in Rhondda.
Other retirements included Petter Solberg (Subaru) who stopped 6km after the start of St Gwynno with no fuel pressure and Piero Liatti (Hyundai) with a broken clutch.
Leaderboard after stage 4
1. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Peugeot 206 28min 38.9sec
2. D Auriol/D Giraudet F Peugeot 206 28min 50.8sec
3. R Burns/R Reid GB Subaru Impreza 28min 58.3sec
4. H Rovanperä/R Pietilainen FIN Peugeot 206 29min 11.4sec
5. A McRae/D Senior GB Hyundai Accent 29min 19.7sec
6. M Higgins/B Thomas GB Ford Focus RS 29min 32.9sec
7. A Schwarz/M Hiemer D Skoda Octavia 29min 35.6sec
8. N Wearden/T Agnew GB Subaru Impreza 29min 39.9sec
9. K Eriksson/S Parmander S Hyundai Accent 29min 41.8sec
10 F Loix/S Smeets B Mitsubishi Lancer 29min 46.8sec
-Ford World Rallye Sport-