Try as he might though, Richard Burns was unable to fight off the challenge of Colin McRae during today's opening four stages, when the Subaru driver had the slight disadvantage of running first on the road. Despite his perceived problem, Burns was still surprised at the pace of his Scottish rival and by the afternoon loop of stages, his target had switched from fighting for the win to hanging on to his second place. He achieved the latter by setting fastest time on the day's last stage.
Toshihiro Arai moved into fourth when Marcus Grönholm retired but came under slight pressure from Freddy Loix this afternoon. However, the Japanese driver fought back to hold onto that placing and equal his best ever finish on a World Championship event (he finished fourth on the Acropolis Rally last year).
Richard Burns said: ''I knew it would be hard to keep Colin behind this morning and I tried everything, but even then he took some big chunks of time. I think the second and third stages today cleaned more than the others, because he really took a lot of time out of me there. Of course, he was also driving pretty hard as well. Once I held Carlos off on the penultimate stage I was more comfortable going into the last, although it was close. We really wanted to be winning these events, not finishing second, but at least we can say we are finishing second and not retiring. Acropolis and the Safari will be crucial if we're to play a greater part in the championship fight.''
Toshihiro Arai continued: ''I'm really pleased with this result. I was determined not to make mistakes, drive my way around the worst rocks and get to the finish and we've done that. To equal my best ever finish is great, and we've set some good times as well.''
Meanwhile at Mitsubishi Freddy Loix's Lancer Evolution was reliable today, but team-mate Katsuhiko Taguchi was forced to retire in SS20 when he damaged his car's suspension.
Freddy Loix spun on the first stage this morning and stalled the engine, costing the Belgian crucial seconds as he tried to close the gap to Toshihiro Arai. He eventually had to settle for fifth, although that result gained Mitsubishi three points in the World Championship for Manufacturers. Katsuhiko Taguchi started the day just outside the top ten and with Marcus Grönholm's retirement, the Japanese driver looked set to score a top ten finish before broken suspension forced him to retire in SS20.
Freddy Loix said: ''I'm quite happy to score some more points, but this has been a really tough rally. I must say that I prefer the cleaner and faster roads instead of the dusty, twisty tracks we've used here. You have to stay in the ruts when possible but sometimes if you get a wheel outside of them you can find loads of loose gravel and the car will snap sideways. It's a shame that I lost time yesterday because I felt quite comfortable with the car during most of this rally and perhaps I could have pushed for a few more points, but at least we have finished.''
At Hyundai Alister McRae's Accent has enjoyed a troublefree final day. Alister McRae started today in ninth but the Scot quickly moved past Bruno Thiry's Skoda into eighth to claim a manufacturers' point for Hyundai. His haul was doubled when Marcus Grönholm retired, promoting McRae to seventh overall and fifth manufacturer-nominated entry by the finish.
Alister McRae said: ''It's really just been a case of keeping the car in decent condition and getting to the finish today. Our tyre wear has been more on a par with everyone else's today, which might just be the characteristics of the roads. But if you'd told me on day one that I'd come out of this rally with a couple of manufacturers' points, I'd have laughed. We're clearly making progress in a number of key areas - the performances over the last few rallies have shown that. All we need to do now is get a clean run and string them all together.''
At Skoda neither Armin Schwarz or Bruno Thiry reported any significant problems with their Octavia WRCs today. Thiry experimented further with his car's spring settings in an attempt to gain more traction while retaining enough suspension travel for the worst bumps. Skoda was the sole manufacturer to get all of its cars to the finish.