Three of the world's top rally drivers are locked in battle for the lead of the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally, which continued in Greece today.
Colin McRae has held on to the lead he established yesterday, but both Carlos Sainz and Richard Burns narrowed the Scot's advantage during today's seven stages north of Itea.
Soaring temperatures and repeated use of some stages made conditions extremely tough for the crews and their cars, and several of the leading competitors hit trouble. Subaru's Markko Martin retired from his fifth position on the day's opening stage, while Hyundai driver Kenneth Eriksson failed to reach that test when his Accent suffered turbocharger failure.
At Ford the Focus RS WRC01s of Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz have been generally reliable today. But François Delecour's example lost its power steering at the start of SS11.
Colin McRae has managed to hold on to his lead of the Acropolis Rally, but the 1995 World Champion's advantage has been wittled down by both Richard Burns and McRae's team-mate Carlos Sainz. Yet again, running first on the road did not help the leader, with McRae forced to sweep clear gravel in certain sections of four of today's stages. François Delecour reverted to Ford's recommended suspension after he evaluated some new-specification shock absorbers yesterday, and the Frenchman pronounced himself much happier with the car. He set several fastest times as he charged back into the top ten, although losing the power steering cost him vital seconds in SS11.
Colin McRae said: ''It's been getting a bit uncomfortable with the two guys behind closing in, but there's nothing more we can do about it. We have no choice in the matter - we just have to push as hard as possible and see if that's enough. The middle three stages today were obviously a bit more slippery than we'd expected, because Carlos did a couple of exceptional times and took quite a bit from us.''
François Delecour added: ''My wrist is a bit better today and the car feels much better on this suspension. With our position on the road we've had a good chance to push and that's exactly what we've been doing.''
Carlos Sainz continued: ''I haven't noticed much difference from yesterday because I'm running in the same position on the road anyway. There's no doubt that the stages are cleaning slightly the first time we go through them. It's turning into a close battle between the three of us.''
Meanwhile at Subaru Richard Burns reported no major problems with his Impreza WRC2001s today. But his team-mate Markko Martin was forced to retire on this morning's opening stage. The Estonian suffered a puncture and then a broken front upright, and with more than 20km of competition remaining before the next available service he had to withdraw. The other Impreza of Petter Solberg
has been generally reliable, although he did bend the steering slightly in SS9 when he punctured a left-front tyre.