Norway's Petter Solberg
has ended an astonishing second leg of the Tour de Corse today [Saturday] with a 17.9-second lead over Belgian Francois Duval.
It was drama from the start of today's six stages on this 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Overnight leader Sebastien Loeb
slid his Citroen
Xsara WRC off the road and dropped ten minutes on the second stage of the day. That test also claimed Ford's Markko Martin, who had only just moved into second place. The Focus driver dropped four minutes changing a smashed wheel on his car.
These early problems left Duval at the head of the field, a position he held until the last stage of the day, where some inspired driving from Solberg carried him to the top of the leaderboard, just two days after he'd crashed his Impreza heavily on the shakedown stage.
Duval is second, but under intense pressure from his former team-mate Carlos Sainz. The Citroen-driving Spaniard is 4.5 seconds behind Duval.
Tomorrow's final leg includes two runs at two stages, for a total of 112km – with further mixed weather conditions.
Both Subaru Impreza WRC 2003s have run without any mechanical troubles today.
Solberg's tyre choice was a little too conservative for the opening loop of stages this morning and he spun on the second test, but as the day wore on, the Norwegian's stage times tumbled as he powered his way into the lead by the end of the day – having started the middle leg of stages in sixth place.
Tommi Makinen spent most of the leg adjusting the damper settings on his car, trying to find the best solution for the ever-changing conditions. He took a tyre too hard for the second loop of two stages this afternoon and couldn't get any heat into them.
Solberg said: "This is amazing. I have been right on the limit all day, but in these conditions trying to get the right tyre is almost impossible. The conditions are changing throughout the stage, all of the time there are places where it would be better to have a small cut here – or not to have had the cut in that place. It's so hard to get it right. The car has been perfect today and I really think we were right with the cut slick tyres we took through that long final stage of the day."
Makinen added: "I don't have so much experience of using these dampers in the wet conditions, so it has taken me a while to get the set-up right. The hard tyres were terrible in SS10 and 11. Not even in the longer stage could we get them to warm up."
At Ford meanwhile the 2003 specification Focus RS WRCs of Martin and Duval ran without any problems, while Mikko Hirvonen
also enjoyed a trouble-free day in his 2002 car.