Four of rallying's top stars are fighting for victory on the sixth round of this year's World Rally Championship, the Cyprus Rally, which continued today.

Richard Burns, Colin McRae, Marcus Gr?nholm and Carlos Sainz remain in contention on the Mediterranean island event after today's eight stages (a loop of four repeated). The latter driver has set several fastest times to recover after he struggled with his high road position yesterday, and the Spaniard still has an outside shot of victory. Less than half a minute separates the top crews and with McRae and Burns virtually tied at the head of the field, Ford used team personnel in today's final stage to keep its driver informed. As a result, he'll start tomorrow's final leg just three seconds behind Burns, but guaranteed a slightly cleaner run.

The intense heat and rocky tracks have again placed reliability at a premium, and several of the top crews have hit problems. Retirements included Kenneth Eriksson's Hyundai, the Peugeot of Didier Auriol and Ford's Fran?ois Delecour.

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At Subaru Richard Burns's Subaru Impreza has been basically reliable today. Its ride height has been raised, so the Englishman has suffered fewer instances of the dust entering the cockpit that hampered his progress yesterday. He did suffer from a front damper problem in the day's last stage, however. Team-mate Toshihiro Arai's car continues to overheat occasionally - on this morning's second stage, it lapsed back into 'safe mapping mode' when the computer decided the temperature was simply too high.

Richard Burns needed just one stage this morning to move clear of Marcus Gr?nholm and grab the lead of the rally, and the Briton resisted intense pressure from the pursuing Colin McRae to maintain his advantage until the early afternoon. Team tactics from Ford meant that McRae judged his pace in the last stage, so even though Burns lost time with a front damper problem, he still ended the day in the lead. Toshihiro Arai, meanwhile, benefited from the problems that hit Freddy Loix, Kenneth Eriksson, Didier Auriol to move into the top six. He eased into fifth when Fran?ois Delecour retired.

Richard Burns said: ''This evening's result was basically engineered by Ford, so it wasn't really a clean fight. We know that the first car on the road has less grip than the others because of the loose gravel, so I'm aware tomorrow's going to be a hard fight. Any one of the top four could probably still win here - I think Carlos could still be a big threat.''

Toshihiro Arai added: ''It's very difficult and worrying when the engine overheats. When the safety mode cuts in the car slows down to walking speed, which is very frustrating. But my aim here is to finish because I think that could get me a point now. I'll be concentrating on not making a mistake now.''

Over at Ford the Focus WRC01s of Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz have suffered no major mechanical problems today. McRae felt the suspension on his example was slightly too soft for this morning's stages, but he stiffened the springs at lunchtime service to prevent it from grounding out on the rough roads. Fran?ois Delecour enjoyed a largely troublefree run until the day's fifth stage, when his engine lost power and stopped completely close to the finish. The Frenchman was forced to retire as a result.

McRae believed that his overnight fourth place was a perfect point from which to start a charge, and he duly eased clear of both Fran?ois Delecour and Marcus Gr?nholm during this morning's loop of four stages to occupy second overall. Delecour wasn't exactly slow, however - the Frenchman moved ahead of Gr?nholm and posted several top three times as he continued to hold his podium placing. An engine problem forced him to retire late this afternoon, though. Carlos Sainz, meanwhile, recovered strongly as he made full use of his relatively low road position and the improved grip that went with it. The Spaniard set six fastest times today to move ahead of Freddy Loix and once Delecour retired, he was promoted to fourth. He ended the day less than half a minute off the lead.

Colin McRae said: ''I'm not sure my position here is perfect, because although I'll have a small advantage over Richard I think Carlos will be the big threat tomorrow. He can certainly still win this rally. I just waited for the radio call in the last stage because with the gaps so small, it was worthwhile to be one position behind Richard on the road. It's going to be a good fight, that's for sure.''

Carlos Sainz added: ''We have to do something about this situation, something to make sure that the first few cars don't have such a big disadvantage. I don't know how we'd do it - maybe run some cars through first or something. As far as this rally goes, I still think it's quite open but it'll be difficult for me.''

Fran?ois Delecour noted: ''It's disappointing because perhaps I wouldn't have been thinking of a victory, but we were certainly able to score some good points in the championship here. I thought the engine lost power because of a fuel problem but then I saw smoke and that was it.''

Meanwhile at Peugeot Marcus Gr?nholm knocked his 206 WRC's left-rear wheel out of line on today's second stage and although the Finn tried to fix the problem, it soon worsened and cost him further time before service. Didier Auriol, meanwhile, was forced to retire after today's fourth stage when his 206's water temperature rocketed.

Marcus Gr?nholm had expected to lose time this morning, because his overnight lead meant he'd have to sweep the roads clear for the following crews. He lost the lead as a result and then dropped to fourth as Fran?ois Delecour and Colin McRae both charged. But when the tests were repeated this afternoon, the Finn was at less of a disadvantage and he kept his time loss to a minimum. Team-mate Didier Auriol benefited from his lowly starting position and the cleaner roads to set a fastest time this morning, but on the fourth stage his 206's engine started to overheat and he retired at the finish.

Marcus Gr?nholm said: ''I did everything I could to keep the time loss to a minimum but this afternoon we had quite bad tyre wear. We'll find out tomorrow if I've done enough - of course we'll have a slightly cleaner road than today but I'm nearly 20 seconds off the lead now.''

Didier Auriol continued: ''There was no real warning of our problem. We saw some water leaking and then the temperature just went up very quickly. I'm disappointed, because we were setting some good times and there was a chance to fight for points.''

At Mitsubishi Freddy Loix's Lancer Evolution broke a left-front driveshaft on today's opening stage, and the Belgian had to fight with three-wheel drive through the next three stages before lunchtime service in Limassol.

Loix had expected today's stages to favour his Lancer more than the twistier roads he faced yesterday, but his hopes of inching further into the points were hit on the first stage when he broke a driveshaft. Fran?ois Delecour's retirement promoted him back into the top six, however. Japanese driver Katsuhiko Taguchi continues to gain experience of the Lancer, although his steady pace means he has yet to challenge any of the remaining manufacturer entries. He held 11th as the crews returned to Limassol this evening.

Freddy Loix said: ''It was very frustrating this morning, because I felt I could have a good set-up on the car and I thought the roads would be better for us. But seven kilometres into the stage, I felt the front driveshaft break and then I had three-wheel drive. You've no idea how hard it is to drive the car with that problem - you have to think twice every time you go for the throttle, because it just snaps sideways.''

For Hyundai team Kenneth Eriksson's hopes of recovering from his first-day problems ended this morning. The Swede lost turbo boost when a pipe broke in the first stage, then had to tackle the second without power steering. Before the third stage, his alternator failed and the battery failed seven kilometres into the test.

Alister McRae, meanwhile, has enjoyed decent reliability but his Accent has been wearing its tyres more than most of the remaining Michelin runners. His main mechanical problem was a broken fan, which raised his car's engine temperature to worrying levels.

Kenneth Eriksson was eventually forced to retire with mechanical problems this morning, but Alister McRae continues to inch higher up the order. The Scot's is still concerned about excessive tyre wear but he ended the day in ninth.

Alister McRae said: ''We need to work out why the tyres are taking so much of a hammering. The wear we're having is worse than almost everyone else, and it's making life very difficult towards the end.''

Kenneth Eriksson added: ''I'm disappointed but also encouraged. We've shown on the last few rallies that the car has potential and that we can do the times. All we need is to get all of the elements together and it'll work.''

At Skoda Armin Schwarz encountered a host of problems this morning. The German had to complete the opening four stages with no differential pressure, and he also hit clutch and brake problems in the same group of tests. The former European champion picked up 50 seconds of road penalties as he tried to correct the brake problems. He encountered further brake glitches during today's last two stages. Bruno Thiry, meanwhile, has continued to fine-tune his Octavia's suspension in an attempt to make it more predictable over the bumps. Despite its problems, Skoda is now the only manufacturer to have all of its works cars still running.

Armin Schwarz's technical problems this morning kept the German outside of the top ten, but subsequent retirements from Didier Auriol, Kenneth Eriksson and Fran?ois Delecour moved him into 10th place overnight. Bruno Thiry has enjoyed a steadier run, and the Belgian ended the day in eighth overall and the final manufacturers' points placing.

Armin Schwarz said: ''This is the kind of rally where you just try to have fewer problems than everyone else and we're having a lot. We're still going, though, and with the battle at the front I can see more retirements coming tomorrow. I quite like the stages because although they're slow, they're technical and you can attack.''

Bruno Thiry noted: ''I'm really trying to hold off Alister McRae now and get the final manufacturers' point for Skoda, but I know I have to keep this pace and see what happens. Reliability will be very important tomorrow.''

Of the other teams Pasi Hagstrom continues to lead the FIA Teams Cup for Privateers, and the Finn now holds a respectable seventh overall as well. In the Group N category for more standard cars, Gustavo Trelles holds the class lead in his Mitsubishi Lancer.

Rally statistics:

Starters: 50 cars (32 Group A + 18 Group N) restarted the rally

Retirements: Eriksson (S), Auriol (F), Delecour (F) + 11 other drivers

Today - Saturday 2 June:

Leg 2 started from Limassol at 08h00 and covered 375.72km, including 105.96km on 8 special stages.

Tomorrow - Sunday 3 June:

Leg 3 starts from Limassol at 08h00 and covers 356.13km, including 97.46km on eight special stages. The first car is expected at the final control in Limassol at 17h30.

Weather forecast: Staying hot and dry

Stage by stage summary:

SS7 Platres-K. Amiantos (11.99kms):
1. Sainz (E) Ford 9m 45.0
2. C.McRae (GB) Ford 9m 51.6
3. Burns (GB) Subaru 9m 52.3

Leaders after SS7:
1. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 10m 21.2
2. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 10m 28.6
3. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 10m 29.5

SS8 Stavroulia-Orkontas (15.73kms):
1. Sainz (E) Ford 16m 53.3
2. Auriol (F) Peugeot 16m 56.0
3. Burns (GB) Subaru 16m 59.8

Leaders after SS8:
1. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 27m 21.0
2. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 27m 29.4
3. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 27m 30.4

SS9 Ag. Theodoros-Asinou (9.61kms):
1. Auriol (F) Peugeot 9m 28.8
2. Sainz (E) Ford 9m 30.4
3. Delecour (F) Ford 9m 34.0

Leaders after SS9:
1. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 36m 56.2
2. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 37m 05.4
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 37m 08.6

SS10 Asinou-Spilia (15.65kms):
1. Sainz (E) Ford 14m 51.8
2. C.McRae (GB) Ford 14m 58.5
3. Delecour (F) Ford 15m 04.0

Leaders after SS10:
1. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 52m 01.8
2. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 52m 03.9
3. Delecour (F) Ford 2h 52m 13.8

SS11 Platres-K. Amiantos 2 (11.99kms):
1. Sainz (E) Ford 9m 47.6
2. Burns (GB) Subaru 9m 52.7
3. Delecour (F) Ford 9m 53.4

Leaders after SS11:
1. Burns (GB) Subaru 3h 01m 54.5
2. C.McRae (GB) Ford 3h 01m 58.2
3. Delecour (F) Ford 3h 02m 07.2

SS12 Stavroulia-Orkontas 2 (15.73kms):
1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 16m 44.3
2. Sainz (E) Ford 16m 46.0
3. Burns (GB) Subaru 16m 51.8

Leaders after SS12:
1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 3h 18m 42.5
2. Burns (GB) Subaru 3h 18m 46.3
3. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 19m 08.9

SS13 Ag. Theodoros-Asinou 2 (9.61kms):
1. Sainz (E) Ford 9m 30.7
2. Burns (GB) Subaru 9m 32.5
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 9m 34.4

Leaders after SS13:
1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 3h 28m 17.6
2. Burns (GB) Subaru 3h 28m 18.8
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 3h 28m 43.3

SS14 Asinou-Spilia 2 (15.65kms):
1. Sainz (E) Ford 14m 48.2
2. Arai (J) Subaru 14m 52.5
3. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot 14m 52.6

Leaders after SS14:
1. Burns (GB) Subaru 3h 43m 17.3
2. C.McRae (GB) Ford +3.0
3. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot +18.6
4. Sainz (E) Ford +24.6
5. Arai (J) Subaru +3m 46.5
6. Loix (B) Mitsubishi +4m 49.8
7. Hagstrom (FIN) Toyota +6m 32.1
8. Thiry (B) Skoda +8m 03.1
9. A. McRae (GB) Hyundai +8m 26.0
10. Schwarz (D) Skoda +9m 43.4