Subaru would have preferred Petter Solberg
and Markko Martin to have started this morning's stages between the leading Fords and Richard Burns but their problems last night prevented this tactic. Burns was still able to use his road position to good effect, however, narrowing the deficit to leader Colin McRae throughout the day. Solberg concentrated on holding onto his fourth position, a task that became increasingly difficult as Harri Rovanperä closed on the young Norwegian.
Richard Burns said: ''Colin's been doing some really impressive times considering he's running first on the road. It's closing together quite nicely and if Carlos keeps up his pace, it helps me because it takes me closer to the lead without having to move another position forward on the road. The pace is quite hot - only François (Delecour) is able to match the times of the top three guys.''
Petter Solberg added: ''I'm still taking it quite steady, just trying not to make a mistake and get caught into a fight with Harri. The stages are so rough in places that I can see where things would break, and I'm avoiding the worst of that.''
At Peugeot the sole remaining works 206 WRC of Harri Rovanperä continues to enjoy a relatively troublefree run, and the Swedish Rally winner has found the car much improved by a raft of changes to its suspension and transmission settings late yesterday afternoon.
With his 206 WRC's handling restored, Harri Rovanperä began to charge this morning and it took only the first stage of the day for him to pass both Gilles Panizzi and Freddy Loix. The Finn also closed in on Petter Solberg's fourth-placed Subaru, although Rovanperä was at a lost to explain vital seconds lost during the shortest stage of the event, the 3.7km SS10. Gilles Panizzi's privately-run 206 WRC continues to hold a top ten placing, although the Frenchman has dropped time today as he struggled with car set-up.
Harri Rovanperä said: ''We're not even sure what's made the difference to the car's handling - we changed so much that it's hard to say. But it's certainly better and I feel confidence to push now. I don't know why I lost the time on the short stage - it was mainly uphill and maybe I made one mistake that cost me time the whole way. There's still a place to fight for and I'm going to try everything for sure.''
Over at Mitsubishi both Mitsubishi Lancers lost time with gearbox problems today. Freddy Loix's example jumped out of fifth and sixth gear in SS8, while Tommi Mäkinen's jumped out of the bottom three gears in SS7. Both gearboxes were changed at today's first full service. Loix later had to turn off parts of his Lancer's cooling system when a heavy landing on a rock pushed the car's radiator back into the turbocharger and the repair in the Service Area cost him 1m50s on road penalties.
Tommi Mäkinen has not made up as much time as he would have liked today, but the four-times world champion could at least console himself with finishing the day just in a points-scoring position. Freddy Loix, meanwhile, first lost a place to Harri Rovanperä early this morning and then dropped to 11th place due to road penalties after SS12.
Tommi Makinen said: ''I'm wondering if the difference is our tyres, because with our road position we should be able to make up more time than this and François Delecour is setting even faster times than us further back. It's not possible for us to win from this situation but hopefully we can get some points.''
Freddy Loix added: ''It's been a hard day for me. I've had a few problems but even when I've had a clean run and thought I'd done a good time, the clock doesn't say the same.''