Frenchman Gilles Panizzi holds a dominant position in the lead of the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Tour de Corse, which continued in Corsica today.
The Peugeot driver and team-mates Marcus Gronholm and Richard Burns have maintained a clean sweep of the podium placings throughout much of today's action, although damper conditions did allow Subaru's Tommi Makinen to briefly move ahead of Burns in third. The reigning world champion soon reclaimed the position, though, and Makinen retired shortly afterwards when he crashed and damaged his car's suspension beyond repair.
Ford's Colin McRae has used his improved car performance in the damp conditions to move into the top six. The Scot now lies just 5.5s behind fourth-placed Philippe Bugalski (another driver to show increased speed today). But even their battle is nearly a minute adrift of Burns with just tomorrow's four stages remaining.
The Peugeot 206 WRC of Marcus Gronholm has been reliable today, but Gilles Panizzi and Richard Burns did complain of a loss of brakes towards the end of SS9. The problem recurred for the Englishman in the last three stages of the day.
Panizzi and Gronholm both opted for an intermediate tyre on this morning's opening, long stage but the Frenchman survived a puncture to post the faster time and extend his overnight lead over his team-mate. Thereafter, last year's Sanremo Rally winner then set four fastest times in six stages as he built up a cushion of more than 40 seconds by the end of SS12.
Gronholm has encountered no problems and the 2000 world champion remains a comfortable second, 20.4s ahead of his nearest rival. The third 206 WRC driver, Richard Burns, lost his overnight third position on the first stage this morning when he opted for cut slick tyres. He fought back, posting the fastest time in SS9 to retake the final podium placing from Tommi Makinen before second service. Brake problems prevented him from challenging Gronholm seriously this afternoon, however.
Gilles Panizzi said: ''The car has been perfect today - it's easy to drive and that means I can push, push, push! I don't think I've attacked this hard in wet conditions since I drove a Peugeot 309 in the French championship - and that was a long time ago! It's looking good but we still have four stages to go and with the weather changing we must keep concentration.''
His team-mate Richard Burns added: ''Apart from the tyres this morning, the only real problem has been the brakes - I don't know why they're fading in the wet when there was no problem in the dry, but at the end of the long stages the pedal's virtually at the floor.''
Over at Subaru the Impreza WRC2002s of Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg
have been generally reliable. The Norwegian's only real problem was a right-front puncture for much of SS9.