Jesus Puras extended his overnight lead by a second on today's first stage, but the Spaniard then threw away his advantage when he crashed out on the next stage. Philippe Bugalski was less than pleased with his car's handling on the first couple of stages (he spun and lost around 45 seconds in SS7b) but then the Frenchman was forced to retire with a broken fuel pump in SS8. Sebastien Loeb
benefited from his team-mates' retirements but the FIA Super 1600 Cup leader set his first ever fastest time in the world championship to move into second overall in SS7b. Thereafter, he and Didier Auriol swapped seconds but the younger charger gained upper hand by the late afternoon to hold second overnight.
Jesus Puras said: ''I was too quick into the corner and we hit a wall, breaking the suspension. We just couldn't go on. I'm disappointed, of course, but these things sometimes happen when you're trying to win a rally against such good drivers and good cars. At least we've shown again that we can be competitive and I'll be back to aim for a victory again in Corsica.''
Philippe Bugalski added: ''I spun in SS7b and broke the front bumper, and then I lost time because I had to reverse back and forth to get back onto the stage. Then on the next stage the engine died because of no fuel pressure. It's hard for me and the team but that's life sometimes.''
Sebastien Loeb continued: ''It's been a very good day for me. I'm delighted to get my first scratch times, of course, but it's also good that we've kept Marcus, Carlos and the rest behind us and put Didier under so much pressure. I hope I can continue this tomorrow and get a good finish for me and the team, so I'm pushing but not taking big risks.''
Ford engineers took until today's second service to finally cure Colin McRae's differential problems. The other Focus WRCs of Carlos Sainz and Francois Delecour have been reliable.
Punctures cost Carlos Sainz valuable seconds today though as the Spaniard tried to fight with Marcus Grönholm, team-mate François Delecour, Renato Travaglia and Petter Solberg. He still held a points placing as he returned to Sanremo, though. Delecour lost time with tyre problems and then stalled on the line in SS9. He dropped behind Travaglia and Solberg as a result, although the Norwegian's last-stage problems brought Delecour back to seventh. McRae inched into the top ten once his transmission problems were cured, but the Scot now only has very faint chances of bagging a drivers' point. A puncture on today's fifth stage didn't help his cause either.
Carlos Sainz said: ''We've had some bad luck with punctures today but when the stage has lots of corners where you cut it's always a possibility. I don't know what more we can achieve here - we'll just keep trying, see if we can stay ahead of the guys we've been fighting with and maybe take some points from here.''
Colin McRae noted: ''We're not sure what solved the transmission problem but the team changed electronic and mechanical parts. But it's really too late for us - all we can do is push for manufacturers' points - any hopes of a drivers' point went out of the window yesterday. All we can hope to do is keep Tommi behind us.''
At Subaru Toshihiro Arai retired from the event on today's first stage when his left-front wheel sheered its nuts and left the Japanese driver stranded. Markko Martin inflicted rear suspension damage on his Impreza on the next test, while Petter Solberg
knocked his right rear lateral suspension link out of line on the day's last stage.
Petter Solberg set his first fastest time on asphalt today as he began to put pressure on Renato Travaglia, François Delecour and Carlos Sainz. But the young Norwegian's hopes took a knock on the last stage, when he hit a rock and damaged his right-rear suspension. Markko Martin had already dented his chances on the day's second stage by hitting a wall and badly damaging his rear suspension. He lost more than three minutes as a result. Toshihiro Arai, meanwhile, was forced to retire on the day's opening stage when his Impreza lost its left-front wheel.