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Colin McRae maintains commanding lead.

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 Mäkinen'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 Mäkinen'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 Grönholm's late problems then moved Mäkinen back into fifth. Freddy Loix has concentrated on building more experience of the stage, but he's been unable to stave off a charging François Delecour.

Tommi Mäkinen 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 Grönholm'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 Mäkinen 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 Mäkinen's difficulties benefited Marcus Grönholm, though - the reigning world champion moved into fourth, before his late power steering and differential problems dropped him back to sixth.

Marcus Grönholm 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.



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