Colin McRae and Richard Burns continue to swap seconds at the front of the fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally Argentina, which continued south of Cordoba today. Despite Subaru driver Burns's best efforts, the Ford of McRae has kept its lead in excess of 35 seconds throughout today's stages, which have been held on dry roads and in bright sunshine.

Third-placed Carlos Sainz has fought hard against increasing pain from his back injury today, but the Spaniard's task in third was made easier when both Tommi M?kinen and Didier Auriol lost time with mechanical problems. Their difficulties allowed reigning FIA World Rally Champion Marcus Gr?nholm to move into fourth before he hit mechanical problems late this afternoon.

The day was marred, however, by a serious road accident involving a local fire truck responding to a blaze involving spectators' cars near the finish of SS11. The truck clipped and seriously injured a senior Skoda team member before rolling onto its side and crashing into the team's two cars in the Santa Rose de Calamuchita regroup area.

At Ford the three Focus WRC01s - driven by Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Francois Delecour - have suffered no major mechanical problems today.

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Colin McRae has defended his overnight lead in style today, matching Richard Burns's pace to keep his advantage at around the 40-second mark. His team-mate Carlos Sainz has found his back injury more painful, though - the Spaniard did not sleep much yesterday evening and felt greater pain from his sciatic nerve this morning. His hopes of retaining third overall were boosted by problems that befell Tommi M?kinen and Didier Auriol, though. The third Focus, driven by Francois Delecour, has continued its recovery after the Frenchman's accident yesterday - he'd moved clear of Freddy Loix's Mitsubishi by lunchtime, although a points placing is still more than a minute away.

Colin McRae said: ''The roads have been nice today - very hard, compacted gravel that's almost like concrete in places. The lead still looks good but I'm pushing hard to keep it at this level, and Richard's still trying. The difference between us shows in the rougher stuff because I'm not taking risks in there and I think he might be. Tomorrow's going to be the hardest day, though, so anything can still happen.''

Carlos Sainz added: ''I woke up at two in the morning and didn't get back to sleep, and I'm certainly not 100 percent. I've been on more painkillers this morning but I'm feeling more pain.''

Over at Subaru the Impreza WRC2001s of Richard Burns and Toshihiro Arai have been reliable today, but Petter Solberg's example hit gearbox problems in the day's final 'proper' stage and the Norwegian was left with only third and fifth gears.

Richard Burns has effectively been able to match Colin McRae's pace today without really making inroads into the Scot's advantage. The Englishman has eased further ahead of third-placed Carlos Sainz, though. Team-mate Petter Solberg has benefited from problems which hit Tommi M?kinen, Didier Auriol and Marcus Gronholm, and the young Norwegian overcame gearbox problems on the day's final long test to hold a relatively comfortable fourth place.

Richard Burns said: ''I'd say Colin ended up having a slightly better tyre choice for this morning's first loop of stages, but there's clearly not much in it. All I can do is keep pushing at this pace, trying to keep him on his toes. We're pushing hard - not taking every risk, but certainly trying.''

Petter Solberg added: ''Today's been better because when we practised these stages before the rally, visibility was much better than it was for yesterday's tests. So my pacenotes were prepared in similar conditions to the ones we're seeing today, and that makes it easier to read the roads. Having only third and fifth gear for the last full stage was hard, and on the stage before that the drinks bottle ended up in my footwell, which made braking interesting! But I'm learning all the time.''

At Mitsubishi Tommi M?kinen's Lancer Evolution hit problems halfway through this morning's first stage, when a rear driveshaft came loose and left the Finn with only one driven wheel at the rear. Although he attempted to solve the problem between the first two tests, he wasn't able to effect satisfactory repairs until after SS10. By that point, he'd lost more than one and a half minutes to the leaders and dropped to sixth. Freddy Loix's example has been more reliable, although the Belgian felt his car's suspension was too soft for the hard, fast surfaces this morning. A change of shock absorbers cured the problem for second loop of stages.

Tommi M?kinen's hopes then of challenging for a podium place disappeared on this morning's first stage, when his Lancer encountered transmission problems. The Finn dropped behind Didier Auriol, but he moved back ahead of the Frenchman when his Peugeot encountered engine difficulties on the very next stage. Marcus Gr?nholm's late problems then moved M?kinen back into fifth. Freddy Loix has concentrated on building more experience of the stage, but he's been unable to stave off a charging Fran?ois Delecour.

Tommi M?kinen said: ''It's a shame we weren't able to fix the problem after the first stage because it cost us another minute. The handling was pretty difficult with only one-wheel drive at the rear. Then when I did fix it, I forgot that I'd locked all the differentials until we got near the end of the stage! The car was better for the next loop of stages but unfortunately we chose too hard a tyre compound so we couldn't even charge there. All we can do now is keep a good speed and hope some others hit problems. Perhaps some rain and mist wouldn't be too bad for us.''

Meanwhile Didier Auriol's Peugeot 206 WRC was hit by wastegate problems on today's second stage and the Frenchman dropped out of the points positions as a result. Marcus Gr?nholm's car started reliably but for the last two stages the reigning world champion was left without power steering or differential pressure. He'd also damaged his rear wheel alignment on the day's first test when he clipped a rock. Reliability issues aside, both drivers have been more satisfied with their cars' handling after changes to the differential settings yesterday evening.

Didier Auriol moved ahead of Tommi M?kinen on today's opening test after the Finn hit mechanical problems, but the Frenchman's 206 lost turbo boost on the following test and he dropped to the bottom half of the top ten. His and M?kinen's difficulties benefited Marcus Gr?nholm, though - the reigning world champion moved into fourth, before his late power steering and differential problems dropped him back to sixth.

Marcus Gr?nholm said: ''If we hadn't clipped the rock on the first stage we could have been closer to Carlos, because it knocked the rear wheel alignment out by quite a lot. The power steering problem was the worst, though - it's not like a normal car when you lose power steering - it's really physical to drive. Up to that point, though, the car was feeling better than it did yesterday. I think the differential changes have made a good difference.''

Hyundai's two Accent WRC2s have been generally reliable today, although both Alister McRae and Kenneth Eriksson picked up road penalties this morning as the team's mechanics modified the exhaust system to prevent a repeat of yesterday's fires. McRae was six minutes late out of first service accordingly, while Eriksson was one minute late at the same control.

Both Alister McRae and Kenneth Eriksson have been generally satisfied with progress today, although both drivers remain disappointed that yesterday's problems cost them the chance of points finishes. They were each capable of setting respectable times, though, and they moved towards the fringes of the top ten as a result.

Alister McRae said: ''The car's just as good as it was yesterday. Our times make sense, and I know if we hadn't had the fire then we'd be looking towards fighting for a point or two. It's a bit hard to keep your motivation in situations like this, but we have to keep trying.''

Kenneth Eriksson added: ''I've actually been a bit disappointed on some stages, because the car feels strong and then the time isn't quite as good as I expect. The roads have been very fast today, though - it's certainly been exciting for us.''

At Skoda Armin Schwarz was less than satisfied with his Octavia's handling on the faster sections of this morning's opening three stages, but neither he or Bruno Thiry suffered any substantial mechanical problems. Both cars were subsequently damaged, though, when a local fire track crashed in the Santa Rose de Calamuchita service area, and they took no further part in proceedings.

Both Skodas retired in the Santa Rosa de Calamuchita service area after a local fire tender, responding to a fire near the finish of SS11, lost control and crashed. It clipped Skoda's Engineering Director with Responsibility for Motorsport, Dr Jens Pohlmann (54), before toppling onto Thiry's Octavia and sliding into the front of Schwarz's car. Pohlmann suffered head and internal injuries and was taken by ambulance to a nearby helipad, then transferred to helicopter and flown to Cordoba's main hospital. An official team statement later described his condition as 'stable', and he was able to speak to doctors this afternoon. His injuries include broken ribs and a broken pelvis, and some skull trauma. Neither of the Skoda crews was injured in the incident, even though Bruno Thiry was sitting inside his Octavia when it was hit by the fire truck.

Bruno Thiry said: ''I was just sitting inside the car and then I saw the truck coming towards me very quickly. I suppose I'm lucky to be unhurt but obviously everyone in the whole team is shocked and sad. We just hope that Mr Pohlmann will be okay soon.''

Of the others Gabriel Pozzo continues to lead the Group N category for more standard machinery in his Mitsubishi Lancer. His nearest rival, multiple category champion Gustavo Trelles, is more than three minutes adrift. Pozzo has enjoyed a relatively troublefree day - his only worry was slightly soft suspension on this morning's first loop of stages.

Rally Statistics:

Starters: 47 cars (15 Group A + 32 Group N) restarted the rally.

Main retirements today: Schwarz (D), Thiry (B) + 6 other drivers.

Today - Saturday 5 May:
Leg 2 started from Villa Carlos Paz at 07h05 and covered 471.65km including 120.43 on 7 special stages.

Tomorrow - Sunday 6 May:
The third and final Leg starts from Villa Carlos Paz at 06h50 and covers 425.49km including 118.56km on 6 special stages. The first car is expected at the final control in Cordoba, Olympic Stadium at 16h24.
Weather forecast: Bright and sunny, with only a chance of patchy cloud.

Summary of today's action:

SS9 SANTA ROSA 1 (26.10km):
1. Burns (GB) Subaru 15m 22.6
2. C.McRae (GB) Ford 15m 22.8
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 15m 24.8

1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 03m 40.8
2. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 04m 22.0
3. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 04m 40.8

SS10 SAN AGUSTIN (12.65km):
1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 9m 19.2
2. Burns (GB) Subaru 9m 20.4
3. Sainz (E) Ford 9m 22.6

1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 13m 00.0
2. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 13m 42.4
3. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 14m 03.4

SS11 AMBOY 1 (17.48km):
1. Burns (GB) Subaru 9m 13.6
2. C.McRae (GB) Ford 9m 16.3
3. Makinen (FIN) Mitsubishi 9m 20.3

1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 22m 16.3
2. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 22m 56.0
3. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 23m 28.1

SS12 SANTA ROSA 2 (26.10km):
1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 15m 10.4
2. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot 15m 10.5
3. Burns (GB) Subaru 15m 14.2

1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 37m 26.7
2. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 38m 10.2
3. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 38m 45.3

SS13 LAS BAJADAS (16.42km):
1. Burns (GB) Subaru 8m 48.3
2. C.McRae (GB) Ford 8m 48.9
3. Sainz (E) Ford 8m 52.8

1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 46m 15.6
2. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 46m 58.5
3. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 47m 38.1

SS14 AMBOY 2 (17.48km):
1. Burns (GB) Subaru 9m 09.2
2. C.McRae (GB) Ford 9m 14.6
3. Makinen (FIN) Mitsubishi 9m 16.8

1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 55m 30.2
2. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 56m 07.7
3. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 56m 55.7

SS15 SAN MARTIN (4.20km):
1. Makinen (FIN) Mitsubishi 3m 04.1
2. P.Solberg (N) Subaru 3m 04.3
3. Burns (GB) Subaru 3m 05.7

1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 58m 36.3
2. Burns (GB) Subaru +37.1
3. Sainz (E) Ford +1m 26,2
4. P.Solberg (N) Subaru +2m 41.9
5. Makinen (FIN) Mitsubishi +2m 58.3
6. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot +3m 54.8
7. Delecour (F) Ford +4m 14.4
8. Loix (B) Mitsubishi +4m 27.6
9. Auriol (F) Peugeot +6m 07.1
10. Arai (J) Subaru +7m 31.0