Appalling weather conditions have again played their part on the second day of the TAP Rallye de Portugal, with several leading stars being forced to retire through accidents and mechanical problems. Mitsubishi's Tommi Makinen holds the overnight lead from Carlos Sainz by 13secs, with Marcus Gr?nholm and Richard Burns fighting hard for the final podium position.

Mitsubishi'sTommi M?kinen extended his advantage over this morning's first three stages, despite concerns about the amount of marshals and spectators standing on or close to the road, as he explained: ''It was really hard to push this morning because in some places, the spectators and marshals were running in front of my car, maybe only 15 metres.

Makinen, who benefited from starting first on each stage, then added: "It seems to be going well otherwise - the new rear suspension on the Lancer has worked as well as he expected it to. It's giving us more suspension travel, which allows us to soften the car up for the wet conditions and get better grip."

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Team-mate Freddy Loix moved further into the points when Harri Rovanper? retired, but the Belgian's run came to a premature end when his Lancer lost drive in the second of the three repeated stages, SS15, and the Belgian was forced to retire from the event.

After Colin McRae's retirement yesterday evening with engine failure, the Ford challenge has continued to be lead by Carlos Sainz, who worked hard to close the gap to leader Tommi M?kinen - but initially he lost further time in this morning's loop of stages.

The Spaniard was stunned to find a safety car in the road in SS12: "The mist has been so terrible," Sainz explained. "I met one car in the middle of the road on today's second stage and there was so little visibility that I could have hit it. I didn't know if it was Tommi, if the stage had been blocked, if there'd been an accident or anything.''

He then slid wide twice in SS16, so the gap between the pair increased to around half a minute by early afternoon. Sainz then won SS18 to reduce the gap to 13sec.

Teammate Francois Delecour holds a lonely fifth place, too far behind Burns to challenge the Briton and easily clear of Alister McRae, although the Frenchman's day has been far from dull with the 'joystick' gearbox failing this morning, forcing him to switch to a mechanical instead of an electronic connection.

He would suffer further problems with the gearbox later in the day and also had to contend with his windscreen misting up, making visibility in the early-morning mist extremely poor. ''I don't like the poor visibility and the misting windscreen made it almost impossible,'' he said.

Peugeot suffered problems to both Rovanpera's and Gronholm's cars the latter losing front differential pressure for five stages, with Peugeot unable to rectify the problem at the first service because of work on the car's fuel filter.

Nevertheless, the reigning World Champion Marcus Gr?nholm fought hard with Richard Burns today, and the Finn still holds the upper hand in third, with the gap between the pair rising to 54.6secs after Burns had a poor final stage (SS18).

''I can't really push in the misty conditions," commented Gronholm. "I took it too slowly this morning, which allowed Richard to close in. The differential problems were frustrating because the repeat stages had less fog and I was hoping to make some more time on Richard.''

Harri Rovanper?, who had been leading the Peugeot charge, was forced to retire after today's first loop of three stages. His 206 lapsed onto three cylinders in SS12, and the engine expired just as the Swedish Rally winner reached the service park. Peugeot sources believe that the problem - head gasket failure - was probably caused when the radiator was damaged yesterday afternoon.

''I'm disappointed," said the Rally Sweden winner. "I know some people think thing were easy for me in Sweden because I'm Scandinavian, so I thought setting fast times here would change their minds. Maybe it has. All I can do now is aim to impress again in Argentina.''

The third 206 of Didier Auriol struggled to make much of an impression on its rivals for manufacturers' points, but retirements helped move the 1994 world champion into eighth overall.

Subaru's Richard Burns pushed hard in this morning's foggy conditions to close in on Gr?nholm, but was slowed when he encountered gearbox glitches in SS15 and SS16, with his power steering also beginning to fluctuate.

''I'm trying like hell to close the gap to Marcus but it's pretty difficult when we've had the power steering and gearbox problems," said the unhappy Englishman. "At least the fog cleared a bit for this afternoon's tests. I haven't been particularly happy with some of the organisation today - the third stage this morning, in particular, was very bad with spectators.''

Markko Martin's Impreza WRC2001 was reluctant to start in this morning's Parc Ferme, but the Estonian driver was able to make repairs and he reached service with no penalty.

Unfortunately that would be his only luck of the day, as his aim of gaining experience of the Portuguese stages floundered in SS16, when the young driver tried to cut a corner, put two wheels over the edge of the road and got stuck. He retired on the spot.

''I've learnt an important lesson today - when you can't see, it's hard to drive! I didn't have much experience of foggy conditions before this event, so while I'm disappointed to retire, it's been a worthwhile rally,'' he added positively.

Hyundai's Kenneth Eriksson's suffered mixed reliability from his Accent WRC2 today. The Swede's wipers failed in SS11 and he had to effect repairs using a branch to restore visibility!

In this afternoon's stages, water started to leak into the car's cabin, causing the windscreen to mist up, all of which cost the Swede valuable time but he still holds seventh and is on course to score a manufacturers' point for Hyundai.

Meanwhile, Alister McRae benefited from his team-mate's problems this morning to move ahead, and the dramas which befell Rovanper?, Loix and Martin have promoted the 1995 British champion to a points-scoring position in sixth.

''I can tell now that our new suspension is better because if I'd say the old version of the Accent would have struggled on these rough conditions," said the Scot. "Apart from that, I have to say that I'm not really enjoying myself - conditions are just too nasty for that.''

The leading privateer team is now former British champion Tapio Laukkanen, who holds ninth in a Toyota Corolla. But the Finn is not registered for the FIA Teams Cup for privateers, so tenth-placed Pasi Hagstrom stands to claim maximum points in that category.

Two of his main rivals, Henrik Lundgaard and Janusz Kulig, retired with driveshaft failures. Yesterday's top privateer, Daniel Carlsson, suffered power steering failure and struggled in the misty conditions.

In the Group N class for more standard machinery, Marcos Ligato now holds an advantage of well over a minute over reigning category World Champion Manfred Stohl. Stohl lost the class lead today when a front driveshaft failed this morning, and police prevented local spectators from pushing the Austrian up an incline.

Meanwhile, as the drivers returned from one of the most arduous days in recent rallying they heard the news that heavy showers are forecast for tomorrow's three final stages.