Ford's Colin McRae heads into the third and final day of the Acropolis Rally just seven stages away from his second win of the season.

The Scot maintained his overnight advantage throughout the seven Saturday stages and, despite having to run first on the road, actually managed to eke out another couple of seconds over second-placed team-mate Carlos Sainz. Remarkably, the previously troubled Fords have enjoyed the best of fortunes on this event and, along with Subaru, are the only intact team pair still in the rally.

Conversely, Saturday saw the demise of the SEAT team, adding it to a list that already includes Mitsubishi and Hyundai from day one, while Peugeot and Skoda both go into the final day with just one works runner remaining.

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The second day's action centred on the roads around Mount Parnassos but, although those around him fell by the wayside with alarming regularity, McRae was able to keep up his run of top five stage finishes despite his roadsweeper role. The Scot set fastest time on both the second and seventh stages of the day - becoming the first driver heading the field to do so this weekend - but admitted that he still wasn't pushing to the absolute limit.

''We've had a good start, but it's not because we've been driving faster than everyone else,'' he said part-way through the day, ''It's more because others have problems and we haven't. We're going pretty well, and I tried quite hard on stage nine - because it's a good one - but we're being careful on the repeated stages.''

Brake and power steering niggles were the only problems to cross the Scot's path, but he knows as well as anyone that he still has a long way to go before adding Acropolis victory to that he earned in Spain.

It was not quite such plain sailing for team-mate Sainz, however, as the Spaniard suffered several punctures and damaged his suspension on SS9 when his rear roll bar broke. The gap to McRae yo-yo'd throughout the day, as the two Ford drivers swapped faster times on the seven stages but, when the field had returned to its overnight halt at Itea, Sainz trailed by a shade over 48secs.

In truth, the Spaniard should probably have succumbed to the advances of championship leader Richard Burns but, instead, watched as the lead Subaru dropped further behind the leader as the day went on. Burns won the first, third, fifth and sixth stages of the day - the only man other than the Ford pair to turn fastest times - but a succession of problems with the Impreza's dampers negated any advantage he had found by not having to run first on the road.

''It's not as bad as it was this morning,'' he said, as he watched his mechanics attempt to rectify the problem at the afternoon service, ''but it just seems to go soft on the rough stuff. Once the suspension goes, what else can you do?''

At the end of the leg, Burns had dropped to three minutes off the lead, although he was in little danger of being caught from behind. Subaru team-mate assumed the role of biggest threat when the Peugeots hit trouble, but then found himself trailing on a couple of stages as his suspension also gave up the ghost. At Itea, further time penalties incurred while the problem was fixed had dropped him behind Japanese privateer Toshihiro Arai, leaving the Finn fifth, almost eight minutes adrift of McRae.

Ahead of both Arai and Kankkunen should have been Francois Delecour, who continued to turn in unexpectedly good performances on the rough roads. Lying in a podium place after leg one, the Frenchman's day began badly when he lost a wheel on SS7, costing him more time than most on the leader. Despite somehow arriving at the service point without incurring any penalties and being able to rejoin and run at the front again, Delecour then suffered an engine fire, caused by a broken sump guard, and lost another wheel on the last stage. He ended the day down in an unrepresentative twelfth.

At least he ended the day. Team-mate Marcus Gronholm was in the middle of a game fightback after his opening day problems when his Peugeot's engine cried enough. Two good opening stages had lifted the Finn back into the top ten, but the effort of trying to live with the Fords was too much for the 206, and Gronholm was forced out while attempting to complete SS9 with a broken wheel jammed in its arch.

Arai's sterling display - in which he has consistently mixed it with the works teams - left him in fourth overnight, and well ahead in the Teams' Cup battle. Nearest rival, Abdullah Bakhashab, also lies inside the top ten overall, but is almost five minutes adrift of the Japanese driver.

Didier Auriol reckoned that, without his day one problems, he could have been fourth overnight, but was left to rue the road which left him unable to continue after ripping off one of his front wheels. Although the Frenchman managed to get through SS7 on the three he had remaining, it was a nigh on impossible task to complete the section that lay between him and the next service, and he duly became the day's first retirement.

SEAT team-mate Toni Gardemeister looked set to be in the rally tomorrow and, having climbed 13 places in the opening three stages, could have been in the hunt for points, but eventually fell foul of broken steering arm at the end of SS9.

''Some of the stages were harder than those on the Safari,'' he said with a mix of amazement and frustration, ''The only problem is that you have to drive faster here. When the steering broke, we could turn right but not left, so we had no choice but to stop. It's disappointing.''

Also climbing, but less spectacularly than the Finn, was Norwegian Petter Solberg in the third Focus. Well down the order after a miserable end to the first leg, Solberg completed the first stage with no power steering, but plugged away to rise to 15th overnight. Fellow Focus runner, and day one sensation, Steven Finlay, failed to make it to the end of the second leg, however, when his suspension gave up the unequal struggle after just one stage.

Inheriting the Irishman's place in the top six, Armin Schwarz admitted to feeling a lot better after his fever of Friday. Although he had not been able to eat or drink much because of a sore throat, the German drove tenaciously to cling on to a championship point for Skoda.

The top ten is completed by the privateer Subarus of Jean-Pierre Richelmi, Frederic Dor and John Papadimitriou, all of which achieved similar stage finishes during the day. The battle between them, and those just off the main leaderboard, is such that a new name seems to crop up almost every time the order is revised. Group N leader Gabriel Pozzo could quite easily be the next newcomer to feature, as he continued to climb the overall list with each stage, and currently lies in eleventh place.

One man hoping that there won't be a new name in his place, however, is McRae. Having led this far, the Scot will be heartbroken to see another potential victory slip through his fingers, but knows the pitfalls of running first in Greece. He would want it no other way, though, and hopes to lead from the front for just one more day.

Stage winners - Acropolis Rally - Leg Two:

SS6 Zeli 1 Richard Burns 20mins 44.9secs SS7 Mendenitsa 1 Colin McRae 19mins 58.5secs SS8 Paleohori 1 Richard Burns 7mins 46.0secs SS9 Gravia 1 Carlos Sainz 18mins 18.6secs SS10 Elatos 1 Richard Burns 8mins 40.3secs SS11 Zeli 2 Richard Burns 11mins 14.4secs SS12 Mendenitsa 2 Colin McRae 20mins 04.1secs

Rally Leaders - Leg Two:

1. Colin McRae Ford Focus WRC 03hrs 01mins 09.0secs +00hrs 00mins 00.0secs
2. Carlos Sainz Ford Focus WRC 03hrs 01mins 57.1secs +00hrs 00mins 48.1secs
3. Richard Burns Subaru Impreza WRC2000 03hrs 04mins 09.1secs +00hrs 03mins 00.1secs
4. Toshiro Arai Subaru Impreza 03hrs 08mins 56.9secs +00hrs 07mins 47.9secs
5. Juha Kankkunen Subaru Impreza WRC2000 03hrs 09mins 00.8secs +00hrs 07mins 51.8secs
6. Armin Schwarz Skoda Octavia WRC 03hrs 09mins 40.6secs +00hrs 08mins 31.6secs
7. Abdullah Bakhashab Toyota Corolla WRC 03hrs 13mins 19.8secs +00hrs 12mins 10.8secs
8. Jean-Pierre Richelmi Subaru Impreza 03hrs 14mins 09.2secs +00hrs 13mins 00.2secs
9. Frederic Dor Subaru Impreza 03hrs 14mins 19.9secs +00hrs 13mins 10.9secs
10. John Papadimitriou Subaru Impreza 03hrs 15mins 02.0secs +00hrs 13mins 53.0secs

12. Francois Delecour Peugeot 206 WRC 03hrs 18mins 47.9secs +00hrs 17mins 38.9secs
15. Petter Solberg Ford Focus WRC 03hrs 23mins 03.1secs +00hrs 21mins 54.1secs

Group N

11. Gabriel Pozzo Mitsubishi Lancer 03hrs 17mins 50.3secs +00hrs 16mins 41.3secs

[Times and standings courtesy Mitsubishi]