Colin McRae and Richard Burns continue to swap seconds at the front of the fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally Argentina, which continued south of Cordoba today. Despite Subaru driver Burns's best efforts, the Ford of McRae has kept its lead in excess of 35 seconds throughout today's stages, which have been held on dry roads and in bright sunshine.
Third-placed Carlos Sainz has fought hard against increasing pain from his back injury today, but the Spaniard's task in third was made easier when both Tommi Mäkinen and Didier Auriol lost time with mechanical problems. Their difficulties allowed reigning FIA World Rally Champion Marcus Grönholm to move into fourth before he hit mechanical problems late this afternoon.
The day was marred, however, by a serious road accident involving a local fire truck responding to a blaze involving spectators' cars near the finish of SS11. The truck clipped and seriously injured a senior Skoda team member before rolling onto its side and crashing into the team's two cars in the Santa Rose de Calamuchita regroup area.
At Ford the three Focus WRC01s - driven by Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Francois Delecour - have suffered no major mechanical problems today.
Colin McRae has defended his overnight lead in style today, matching Richard Burns's pace to keep his advantage at around the 40-second mark. His team-mate Carlos Sainz has found his back injury more painful, though - the Spaniard did not sleep much yesterday evening and felt greater pain from his sciatic nerve this morning. His hopes of retaining third overall were boosted by problems that befell Tommi Mäkinen and Didier Auriol, though. The third Focus, driven by Francois Delecour, has continued its recovery after the Frenchman's accident yesterday - he'd moved clear of Freddy Loix's Mitsubishi by lunchtime, although a points placing is still more than a minute away.
Colin McRae said: ''The roads have been nice today - very hard, compacted gravel that's almost like concrete in places. The lead still looks good but I'm pushing hard to keep it at this level, and Richard's still trying. The difference between us shows in the rougher stuff because I'm not taking risks in there and I think he might be. Tomorrow's going to be the hardest day, though, so anything can still happen.''
Carlos Sainz added: ''I woke up at two in the morning and didn't get back to sleep, and I'm certainly not 100 percent. I've been on more painkillers this morning but I'm feeling more pain.''
Over at Subaru the Impreza WRC2001s of Richard Burns and Toshihiro Arai have been reliable today, but Petter Solberg's example hit gearbox problems in the day's final 'proper' stage and the Norwegian was left with only third and fifth gears.
Richard Burns has effectively been able to match Colin McRae's pace today without really making inroads into the Scot's advantage. The Englishman has eased further ahead of third-placed Carlos Sainz, though. Team-mate Petter Solberg
has benefited from problems which hit Tommi Mäkinen, Didier Auriol and Marcus Gronholm, and the young Norwegian overcame gearbox problems on the day's final long test to hold a relatively comfortable fourth place.