The second day of the Corsica Rally provided one of the most frightening incidents of the season, as well as leaving the battle for the lead split by just a fraction of a second.

The main talking point of the leg was the major accident that left championship contender Colin McRae requiring the attention of medical crews on SS10, before being airlifted to hospital in nearby Bastia for further treatment.

It transpires that the Scot may have cut one of a series of sixth-gear bends too sharply, flipping the Ford Focus up and over before rolling it down one of the steep banks that border the Corsican roads. Its downward progress was subsequently halted by a substantial impact with a tree and, although co-driver Nicky Grist was able to climb out unaided and unhurt, McRae needed to be cut from teh wreckage.

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Initially unconscious, the Scot quickly came round, and was seen standing by the car as he recieved treatment from the medical team. Although apparently alert at the scene, he was then flown to Bastia hospital for further checks, which revealed a broken cheekbone and bruising to his chest and lungs. McRae is expected to fly home overnight.

The incident removed one of the event's leading players, but did little to affect the inter-necine battle taking place at the front of the field. Overnight leader Gilles Panizzi began the day in the same sort of form that saw him close Friday in front, and stage seven went his way despite the poor conditions that greeted the crews early on.

''I thought that we would lose a lot more time, but found that we had just as much traction in the wet as we did in the dry,'' he claimed later, ''The engine stalled at the start of the last stage, though. I've had one or two little problems since the start of the rally, but it's going well."
Stages nine and ten also went the Frenchman's way, increasing his lead over Peugeot team-mate Francois Delecour, who again maintained a presence in the top three on each of the day's six stages.

It should have been six but, in actual fact, Delecour maintained his presence in teh top three on only five, after SS8 was cancelled because of the sheer weight of people attempting to catch a glimpse of the proceedings. With all the cars transferring to the start of SS9 at Noceta, Panizzi held an eight-second lead over his team-mate, increased it over stages nine and ten, before Delecour finally got his revenge on eleven.

The older Frenchman claimed that his tyre choice had been wrong, having been caught out by the damp conditions that greeted the teams at the Ajaccio start. Overnight thunderstorms had left sections of the course very wet, with high winds scattering leaves and other debris into the road, and Delecour believed that the Michelin intermediates used on both cars suited Panizzi better than they suited him.

He had his set-up sorted more to his liking by the end of the day, however, and added stage twelve victory to that on the previous test. Adding to his pleasure, for their had been no team orders issued by the Peugeot camp, his final test time was sufficient to overhaul Panizzi after the long-time leader hit starter problems. Just 0.2secs separate the pair overnight.

Behind the lead battle, Carlos Sainz had been scrapping with team-mate McRae, conceding a little time on the day's opening stage, where McRae finished third, but is untroubled in third after the Scot's retirement. Sainz also found the Corsican wall, albeit without the severe effects that pitched McRae off the road, and holds over a minute's advantage over new fourth-place man, Richard Burns.

The Subaru man had hoped to take full advantage of the slippery conditions early in teh morning, but scuppered his chances of making inroads with a slow time on SS7. As the roads dried, so did his opportunity to gain ground, and Burns never managed to feature in teh top three on a stage as Panizzi, Delecour and Sainz staged a lock-out for the rest of the day. He even had to share his SS10 time with those scheduled to run behind him, after McRae's accident saw the rest of the stage cancelled while the Scot was extricated from his shattered Focus.

''I haven't had any major problems, but I just can't keep up the pace,'' Burns admitted at the end of the day, ''I don't know what it is, but it is just so frustrating.''

New Subaru team-mate Simon Jean-Joseph showed progress on his learning curve with the Impreza, finishing ahead of Burns on SS7, and climbing the order to hold a points-paying place at the end of SS11 when the remaining Mitsubishi hit problems with a broken wheel.

A top six spot overnight wasn't to be, however, as an engine bay fire shortly into the final test caused more than a few palpitations in the cockpit. The driver emptied the contents of the car's extinguisher into the affected area and, when this failed to work, poured gravel into the bay in order to put the fire out. The incident allowed Marcus Gronholm to gain a lot more than the three seconds that separated Subaru from Peugeot at the time, and left Jean-Joseph in seventh at the end of the day.

Like Jean-Joseph, Tommi Makinen was not unduly worried by his incident, although it did cost him time, a top six place and, possible, the chance to shoot for his fifth consecutive title. The Finn left the road after experiencing problems with the Lancer's brakes, hitting a rock and damaging the front track and suspension in the process.

Although he made it to the end of the stage - number nine - Makinen and co-driver Risto Mannisenmaki had to change the damaged wheel before moving on to the start of the next test at Feo, where further repairs were effected, but the Finn later admitted that his chances of winning were slimmer than ever.

''I'm driving in order to test for the San Remo rally,'' was his terse assessment at the end of the day.

The late problems to hit both Makinen and Jean-Joseph allowed series leader Gronholm, and the third Ford entry of Piero Liatti into the top six as the field returned to Ajaccio overnight. The Finn has started slowly on Friday, as he adapted to the tarmac surface, but gradually made up ground on his championship rivals as the second day wore on.

Liatti, meanwhile, persisted with Ford's new joystick, until the system suffered a recurrence of its Friday problems, and also reported braking problems on the Focus, but plugged away to move into sixth as Jean-Joseph suffered his fire.

''I'm feeling happier and happier with this car,'' the Italian said, ''I'm now reaching the car's braking limit, but I'm still not driving at 100 per cent. There's still one leg to go, so we'll see."
Separating Jean-Joseph and Makinen just outside the points, six-times Corsica winner Didier Auriol finally felt that he was making progress with the SEAT Cordoba. Unable to break into the top six on any stage, the Frenchman pointed to small set-up problems that were still causing his handling to be far from his liking, but was happy enough just to make it into the final day of the rally.

''I've finally made the right tyre choice, but I'm still fighting the car,'' he reported, ''I'm doing what I can... The power steering stiffened up a couple of times during the early part of the day, and it seems that we were losing time going uphill, gaining it coming down.''

The second Cordoba suffered from a series of gearbox maladies, which prevented Toni Gardemeister from making the most of his short break into the top ten, leaving the Finn in eleventh overnight. Further back, in 13th, alister McRae continued to use the rally as a much-needed asphalt test for Hyundai, struggling with the hard surface and missing the experienced feedback of team-mate Kenneth Eriksson. He also had stering problems and damaged a tyre midway through the day, which cost him time.

!We're trying a lot of different things on the car,'' he reported, ''That fact that the third leg's stages will be the same as those on the first means that we will be able to make a comparison having made those changes."

Group N continued to go the way of championship leader Manfred Stohl, despite the Austrian reporting that he had made several dubious tyre choices. It appeared to matter little, however, as his nearest rival at the end of the day - Gustavo Trelles - was well over a minute adrift.

Stohl's closest rivals after day one both hit problems, with Jean-Marie Santoni dropping to fourth in class by the end of the leg, and Gianluigi Galli retiring altogether after going off the road on SS9. Krisztian Hideg took full advantage of the problems to move into third in class, but lies over three minutes behind the leader.

Things are closer at the front and, with just 0.2secs, and no team orders, separating Delecour and Panizzi as the third and final leg begins, the championship contenders will press on in case one or both succumbs to problems as they strive for victory. It may be a Peugeot demonstration at the moment, but may not stay that way for long.

Stage winners - leg two.

SS7 Morosaglia (31.91km) Gilles Panizzi Peugeot 206 WRC 21mins 02.8secs
SS8 Taverna (16.14km) Cancelled due to crowd congestion
SS9 Noceta (16.60km) Gilles Panizzi Peugeot 206 WRC 6mins 36.8secs
SS10 Col San Quilico (22.47km) Gilles Panizzi Peugeot 206 WRC 15mins 21.6secs
SS11 Pont Sant Laurent (26.44km) Francois Delecour Peugeot 206 WRC 17mins 30.9secs
SS12 Altiani (16.52km) Francois Delecour Peugeot 206 WRC 10mins 26.3secs

Overall times after SS12

1. Francois Delecour Peugeot 206 WRC 02hrs 37mins 16.8secs +00mins 00.0secs
2. Gilles Panizzi Peugeot 206 WRC 02hrs 37mins 17.0secs +00mins 00.2secs
3. Carlos Sainz Ford Focus WRC 02hrs 37mins 42.7secs +00mins 25.9secs
4. Richard Burns Subaru Impreza WRC2000 02hrs 38mins 46.7secs +01mins 29.9secs
5. Marcus Gronholm Peugeot 206 WRC 02hrs 39mins 23.6secs +02mins 06.8secs
6. Piero Liatti Ford Focus WRC 02hrs 39mins 47.3secs +02mins 30.5secs
7 Simon Jean-Joseph Subaru Impreza WRC 02hrs 39mins 48.9secs +02mins 32.1secs
8. Didier Auriol SEAT Cordoba WRC 02hrs 40mins 15.6secs +02mins 58.8secs
9. Tommi Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo6 02hrs 41mins 39.9secs +04mins 23.1secs
10. Sebastien Loeb Toyota Corolla WRC 02hrs 42mins 24.5secs +05mins 07.7secs

11. Toni Gardemeister SEAT Cordoba WRC 02hrs 42mins 36.6secs +05mins 19.8secs
12. Fabrice Morel Peugeot 206 WRC 02hrs 42mins 53.0secs +05mins 36.2secs
13. Alister McRae Hyundai Accent WRC 02hrs 43mins 52.9secs +06mins 36.1secs

Group N

18. Manfred Stohl Mitsubishi Carisma GT 01hrs 52mins 41.4secs +12mins 51.4secs
20. Gustavo Trelles Mitsubishi Lancer 01hrs 53mins 58.1secs +14mins 02.5secs
Krisztian Hideg Mitsubishi Carisma GT 02hrs 53mins 09.7secs +15mins 52.9secs
Jean-Marie Santoni Mitsubishi Carisma GT 01hrs 54mins 00.6secs +16mins 00.1secs


Rtd Colin McRae Ford Focus WRC accident - SS10
Rtd Gianluigi Galli Mitsubishi Carisma GT retired - SS9
Rtd Kenneth Eriksson Hyundai Accent WRC clutch - SS2
Rtd Petter Solberg Subaru Impreza WRC2000 Gearbox/OTL - SS2
Rtd Freddy Loix Mitsubishi Carisma GT accident - SS1

[Times courtesy Mitsubishi Motors]