Three of the world's top rally drivers are locked in battle for the lead of the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally, which continued in Greece today.

Colin McRae has held on to the lead he established yesterday, but both Carlos Sainz and Richard Burns narrowed the Scot's advantage during today's seven stages north of Itea.

Soaring temperatures and repeated use of some stages made conditions extremely tough for the crews and their cars, and several of the leading competitors hit trouble. Subaru's Markko Martin retired from his fifth position on the day's opening stage, while Hyundai driver Kenneth Eriksson failed to reach that test when his Accent suffered turbocharger failure.

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At Ford the Focus RS WRC01s of Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz have been generally reliable today. But Fran?ois Delecour's example lost its power steering at the start of SS11.

Colin McRae has managed to hold on to his lead of the Acropolis Rally, but the 1995 World Champion's advantage has been wittled down by both Richard Burns and McRae's team-mate Carlos Sainz. Yet again, running first on the road did not help the leader, with McRae forced to sweep clear gravel in certain sections of four of today's stages. Fran?ois Delecour reverted to Ford's recommended suspension after he evaluated some new-specification shock absorbers yesterday, and the Frenchman pronounced himself much happier with the car. He set several fastest times as he charged back into the top ten, although losing the power steering cost him vital seconds in SS11.

Colin McRae said: ''It's been getting a bit uncomfortable with the two guys behind closing in, but there's nothing more we can do about it. We have no choice in the matter - we just have to push as hard as possible and see if that's enough. The middle three stages today were obviously a bit more slippery than we'd expected, because Carlos did a couple of exceptional times and took quite a bit from us.''

Fran?ois Delecour added: ''My wrist is a bit better today and the car feels much better on this suspension. With our position on the road we've had a good chance to push and that's exactly what we've been doing.''

Carlos Sainz continued: ''I haven't noticed much difference from yesterday because I'm running in the same position on the road anyway. There's no doubt that the stages are cleaning slightly the first time we go through them. It's turning into a close battle between the three of us.''

Meanwhile at Subaru Richard Burns reported no major problems with his Impreza WRC2001s today. But his team-mate Markko Martin was forced to retire on this morning's opening stage. The Estonian suffered a puncture and then a broken front upright, and with more than 20km of competition remaining before the next available service he had to withdraw. The other Impreza of Petter Solberg has been generally reliable, although he did bend the steering slightly in SS9 when he punctured a left-front tyre.

Subaru would have preferred Petter Solberg and Markko Martin to have started this morning's stages between the leading Fords and Richard Burns but their problems last night prevented this tactic. Burns was still able to use his road position to good effect, however, narrowing the deficit to leader Colin McRae throughout the day. Solberg concentrated on holding onto his fourth position, a task that became increasingly difficult as Harri Rovanper? closed on the young Norwegian.

Richard Burns said: ''Colin's been doing some really impressive times considering he's running first on the road. It's closing together quite nicely and if Carlos keeps up his pace, it helps me because it takes me closer to the lead without having to move another position forward on the road. The pace is quite hot - only Fran?ois (Delecour) is able to match the times of the top three guys.''

Petter Solberg added: ''I'm still taking it quite steady, just trying not to make a mistake and get caught into a fight with Harri. The stages are so rough in places that I can see where things would break, and I'm avoiding the worst of that.''

At Peugeot the sole remaining works 206 WRC of Harri Rovanper? continues to enjoy a relatively troublefree run, and the Swedish Rally winner has found the car much improved by a raft of changes to its suspension and transmission settings late yesterday afternoon.

With his 206 WRC's handling restored, Harri Rovanper? began to charge this morning and it took only the first stage of the day for him to pass both Gilles Panizzi and Freddy Loix. The Finn also closed in on Petter Solberg's fourth-placed Subaru, although Rovanper? was at a lost to explain vital seconds lost during the shortest stage of the event, the 3.7km SS10. Gilles Panizzi's privately-run 206 WRC continues to hold a top ten placing, although the Frenchman has dropped time today as he struggled with car set-up.

Harri Rovanper? said: ''We're not even sure what's made the difference to the car's handling - we changed so much that it's hard to say. But it's certainly better and I feel confidence to push now. I don't know why I lost the time on the short stage - it was mainly uphill and maybe I made one mistake that cost me time the whole way. There's still a place to fight for and I'm going to try everything for sure.''

Over at Mitsubishi both Mitsubishi Lancers lost time with gearbox problems today. Freddy Loix's example jumped out of fifth and sixth gear in SS8, while Tommi M?kinen's jumped out of the bottom three gears in SS7. Both gearboxes were changed at today's first full service. Loix later had to turn off parts of his Lancer's cooling system when a heavy landing on a rock pushed the car's radiator back into the turbocharger and the repair in the Service Area cost him 1m50s on road penalties.

Tommi M?kinen has not made up as much time as he would have liked today, but the four-times world champion could at least console himself with finishing the day just in a points-scoring position. Freddy Loix, meanwhile, first lost a place to Harri Rovanper? early this morning and then dropped to 11th place due to road penalties after SS12.

Tommi Makinen said: ''I'm wondering if the difference is our tyres, because with our road position we should be able to make up more time than this and Fran?ois Delecour is setting even faster times than us further back. It's not possible for us to win from this situation but hopefully we can get some points.''

Freddy Loix added: ''It's been a hard day for me. I've had a few problems but even when I've had a clean run and thought I'd done a good time, the clock doesn't say the same.''

At Citroen after Thomas Radstr?m's retirement with electrical problems late yesterday evening, Citroen's efforts have been focused on the remaining Xsara WRC of Philippe Bugalski. The Frenchman's car has been reliable today.

Philippe Bugalski inched into the top ten when Markko Martin retired this morning, and the multiple French champion has consolidated that position throughout the day. He was particularly pleased to set respectable times in the middle loop of three stages, since he'd conducted his recce of those tests when he was ill.

Philippe Bugalski said: ''The middle three stages were like new ones to me, because I was so ill when I did the recce there. So I thought my times were quite good. The car has been better today than yesterday - we've made some changes to the handling and it's not giving me the same understeer entering corners and oversteer exiting corners that it did earlier.''

Meanwhile at Skoda the two Skoda Octavia WRCs of Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry have been generally reliable today, although both drivers were less than happy at their suspension set-ups and tyre choices on this morning's first pair of stages.

Armin Schwarz has continued to keep his Octavia just outside the top ten, but the German was unable to stop either the charging Fran?ois Delecour or Philippe Bugalski this morning. Bruno Thiry's Octavia is two places further back in 13th, as the Belgian continues to fight with Simon Jean-Joseph's privately-run Peugeot.

Armin Schwarz said: ''Our tyres this morning had a very hard, rigid construction and we lost a lot of traction as a result. There was nothing we could do to keep Philippe or Fran?ois behind.''

Bruno Thiry added: ''The car was hard to drive on today's first two stages but at least it's been basically reliable. We need a few more retirements tomorrow if we're going to score some points, but with the repeated stages anything is still possible. This rally still has a long way to go.''

At Hyundai Kenneth Eriksson was forced to retire his Accent WRC2 on the road section from service to this morning's first stage, when the car suffered turbo failure. Alister McRae, meanwhile, broke a driveshaft in SS9. The flailing shaft caused hydraulic fluid to leak and start a small fire, and McRae stopped to removed the shaft, put out the fire and reconnect the hydraulic pipes. He then had to contest two further stages with only three-wheel drive.

Kenneth Eriksson had hoped to gain data as Hyundai tries to solve the turbo problems that blighted its efforts yesterday, but the Swede was forced out before today's opening stage with another turbo failure. Alister McRae had moved towards the top ten but he then lost all hope of a top-ten finish when he broke a driveshaft.

Kenneth Eriksson said: ''We had turbo boost problems for a lot of yesterday and we wanted to check some data this morning, but on the road section we had another turbo failure so we had to stop. I'm disappointed because we showed in Cyprus that the car can be competitive, but our problems here haven't allowed us to repeat that form. All we can do is regroup and come back for Finland.''

Of the other teams in the FIA Teams Cup for Privateers, Hamed Al Wahaibi lost his brakes on this morning's first stage and then dropped to third place after changing a wheel on SS12. One of his main rivals, Henrik Lundgaard, suffered another suspension problem this morning, resulting in a broken driveshaft. Pasi Hagstrom now leads, just less than a minute clear of Lundgaard, despite struggling with gear selection problems.

The Group N class for more standard machinery is still led by Argentine driver Gabriel Pozzo, with Uruguay's Gustavo Trelles in second. In the FIA Super 1600 Cup section, Sebastien Loeb took just two stages to move from his overnight third place in the category to the head of the leaderboard. Former leaders Benoit Rousselot and Alejandro Galanti retired today with suspension and gearbox problems respectively, and only eleven of the original 21 S1600 starters remain after SS12.

Rally Statistics:

Starters: 81 cars (63 Group A + 18 Group N) restarted the rally Retirements: Eriksson (S), Martin (EE), + 14 other drivers

Today: Saturday 16 June:

Leg 2 started from Itea at 07h00 and covered 601.68km, including 117.72km on 7 special stages.

Tomorrow: Sunday 17 June:

Leg 3 starts from Itea at 07h00 and covers 514.38km, including 132.01km on 7 special stages. The first car is expected at the final control in Itea at 18h30.

Weather forecast: Staying hot and dry

Leg two - Stage by stage summary:

SS7 Pavliani 2 (24.45kms):
1. Delecour (F) Ford 19m 46.0
2. Rovanper? (FIN) Peugeot 19m 54.7
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 19m 55.2

Leaders after SS7:
1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 1h 45m 36.8
2. Sainz (E) Ford 1h 46m 04.3
3. Burns (GB) Subaru 1h 46m 10.3

SS8 Karoutes 1 (18.89kms):
1. Delecour (F) Ford 12m 12.8
2. Burns (GB) Subaru 12m 19.5
3. Rovanper? (FIN) Peugeot 12m 21.5
3. M?kinen (FIN) Mitsubishi 12m 21.5

Leaders after SS8:
1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 1h 58m 03.1
2. Sainz (E) Ford 1h 58m 27.3
3. Burns (GB) Subaru 1h 58m 29.8

SS9 Livadia 1 (11.66kms):
1. Sainz (E) Ford 9m 26.2
2. Delecour (F) Ford 9m 27.2
3. Rovanper? (FIN) Peugeot 9m 27.8

Leaders after SS9:
1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 07m 34.3
2. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 07m 53.5
3. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 07m 58.7

SS10 Stiti 2 (3.70kms):
1. Delecour (F) Ford 1m 57.3
2. Sainz (E) Ford 1m 57.4
3. M?kinen (FIN) Mitsubishi 1m 57.5

Leaders after SS10:
1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 09m 32.2
2. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 09m 50.9
3. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 09m 57.0

SS11 Gravia 1 (17.13kms):
1. Sainz (E) Ford 13m 17.3
2. Burns (GB) Subaru 13m 20.3
3. C.McRae (GB) Ford 13m 22.4

Leaders after SS11:
1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 22m 54.6
2. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 23m 08.2
3. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 23m 17.3

SS12 Inohori 2 (23.00kms):
1. Delecour (F) Ford 18m 13.2
2. Sainz (E) Ford 18m 13.5
3. P.Solberg (N) Subaru 18m 15.4

Leaders after SS12:
1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 41m 12.6
2. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 41m 21.7
3. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 41m 33.5

SS13 Karoutes 2 (18.89kms):
1. Burns (GB) Subaru 12m 03.4
2. Delecour (F) Ford 12m 04.5
3. P.Solberg (N) Subaru 12m 08.8

Leaders after SS13:
1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 2h 53m 22.1
2. Sainz (E) Ford +09.8
3. Burns (GB) Subaru +14.8
4. P.Solberg (N) Subaru +1m 00.7
5. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot +1m 13.6
6. Makinen (FIN) Mitsubishi +2m 06.8
7. Delecour (F) Ford +2m 41.8
8. Bugalski (F) Citroen +3m 01.3
9. Schwarz (D) Skoda +3m 42.4
10. Panizzi (F) Peugeot +4m 14.6