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McRae continues rock-solid form.

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.

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?''



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