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Drama a matter of Corse.

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.



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Yazeed Al Rajhi, Michal Orr (Ford Fiesta RRC, #31 Yazeed Racing)
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