Citroen had been expected to be Peugeot's nearest challenger on the Spanish asphalt, but the Xsaras have ended up fighting with the Subarus and Fords instead of scrapping with the 206s. Both Philippe Bugalski and Sebastien Loeb
struggled to find confidence in corners that were often coated with pulled-out gravel, Loeb then picked too soft a tyre compound for the 48km SS3. The two Frenchmen both recovered, though, posting more competitive times as the day progressed. They finished today's leg in third and fourth respectively. Thomas Rådström admitted to being out of practice on the Catalan asphalt (he last tackled the event four years ago) and the Swede retired in the final stage of the day.
Sebastien Loeb said: ''It's hard to really attack when the level of grip is changing from corner to corner, depending on the gravel. The tyre choice for SS3 was quite bad - by the last 10 kilometres the car was sliding around all over the place.''
Philippe Bugalski noted: ''You really need absolute confidence here to attack and I haven't quite found that yet. That's why there is still a difference between us and Gilles Panizzi - I'm sure we could do those times if we were on full attack. Changing the anti-roll bar helped, though. I have a slightly better feeling for the car.''
Tommi Mäkinen's Subaru Impreza WRC2002 hit gearbox problems barely five kilometres into SS3 today. The Finn's car jumped out of sixth gear and the transmission subsequently went into 'safe mode', hampering the differentials and making gearshifts take longer. Petter Solberg, meanwhile, lost time in the same stage when his car's brakes started to lock and unlock. The same problem recurred in SS4 and SS5, where the Norwegian was also hampered by a sticking throttle.
Mäkinen has been beaten by his young team-mate Petter Solberg
in much of today's action. Solberg was third overall after the first test, but brake problems then dropped him further down the points order. He ended the day in sixth. Gearbox glitches cost Mäkinen time in SS5, as he sat just outside the points positions and on the last stage the Finn left the road and lost nearly two minutes.
Tommi Mäkinen said: ''After about five kilometres of SS3 we were on a fast downhill stretch in sixth gear. I lifted off slightly but when I went to accelerate again there was no gear at all. We got sixth gear back but by then, the whole system had gone into 'safe mode' so there was not much hydraulic pressure. The differentials didn't work so well and gear changes took a long time. It's annoying, because it cost me at least about 25 seconds.''
Petter Solberg added: ''I've had plenty of bad luck today. On SS2 I had a lot of problems with my pacenotes and I had to make a lot of changes, so I know we could have been quicker in there. Then in SS3 the brakes weren't working properly at all and it was impossible to really commit to corners. It's frustrating - our times have been good but we know they could be better!''
The Ford Focus RS WRC02s of Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae have run without major problems today. Markko Martin's car has suffered from a hydraulic fluid leak, although it did not affect the car's handling.
Ford's two injured drivers, Sainz and Colin McRae, have managed to keep their Focuses inside the top ten today. Both have been encouraged by the car's ability to swap times with the Subarus and Citroens, and Sainz's confidence continues to grow as he becomes more accustomed to stand-in navigator Marc Marti. McRae and Sainz held seventh and eighth at the end of the day. Markko Martin has rarely been more than a handful of seconds off the pace of his team-mates, and the Estonian holds ninth. Reverting his Focus back to its Corsica set-up improved Martin's confidence.
Carlos Sainz said: ''It's been going okay today. Marc and I have been working quite well together and it's getting better and better. The car has been okay, the tyres have been pretty competitive too. I don't know if we can challenge any higher than this but the time in the first run through the long stage actually surprised me. We'd made some changes to the car - stiffer suspension, for starts - but it was quite encouraging.''