Ford's Colin McRae has scored his third win in succession in this year's FIA World Rally Championship after a dramatic finish to the seventh round, the Acropolis Rally.

The Scot and co-driver Nicky Grist entered the final 38km stage just 7.5 seconds ahead of their team-mate Carlos Sainz, but the Spaniard's engine failed 8km into the test and he was forced to retire. With McRae's other main challenger Richard Burns losing time with an accident this morning (and subsequently retiring with propshaft failure), Norway's Petter Solberg threaded his Subaru Impreza over the rough Greek tracks to claim a career-best second place.

McRae's victory lifted his career WRC wins total to 23, equalling the record held by Sainz and Juha Kankkunen, and vaulted the 1995 champion to the joint lead of the drivers' championship with Tommi M?kinen, who finished fourth in Greece.

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At Ford today the Focus RS WRC01s of Colin McRae and Fran?ois Delecour have been reliable, although Carlos Sainz's car lapsed onto three cylinders and then lost oil pressure 8km into the final stage, forcing the Spaniard into retirement.

Colin McRae admitted that he was 'relieved' to see father Jim holding out a board confirming that Carlos Sainz had retired during the last stage, for McRae had seen his overnight lead slashed by a remorseless attack from the Spaniard throughout today's tests. The double world champion took nearly seven seconds from the middle loop of three tests, setting up a grandstand finish that was eventually spoilt by his engine problems.

Fran?ois Delecour was feeling further pain in his right wrist today after he had to do a test without power steering yesterday, but the Frenchman set consistently quick times and despite two punctures in the last two stages he finished fifth.

Colin McRae said: ''It's great to get three in a row and hopefully we'll make it a fourth in Kenya next month! I was fairly confident going into the last stage but then about halfway through I saw the board telling me that Carlos was out. It's unfortunate for him and it was a good fight. The championship fight is obviously very much alive now.''

Carlos Sainz noted: ''The car slowed suddenly, then it went onto three cylinders and the oil pressure dropped. This sport can be very cruel sometimes, and I'm used to these things, but it's still very hard to take. I was confident we could challenge Colin.''

Ford World Rally team principal Malcolm Wilson added: ''This is a 'bittersweet' victory, for while we're obviously delighted with Colin's performance and result, we feel for Carlos. There were no team orders and we had confidence that the car would last, but it's just one of those situations. But we have to take satisfaction from Colin's win and a good team performance.''

At Subaru Richard Burns suffered gearbox problems on this morning's second stage, although his accident had cost him more than two minutes earlier anyway. The Englishman put the gearbox into 'safe change mode', which meant it took around two seconds for each shift. He then had to retire in SS19 with propshaft problems after just half a kilometre. Petter Solberg's Impreza has been more reliable - the young Norwegian changed the centre differential last night and was happier with the car's handling today as a result. He hit gearbox problems in the last stage but jammed the 'box in fourth and reached the finish.

Richard Burns set fastest time on today's opening stage to put greater pressure on the Fords of Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz, but on the longer second test he slid off the road and had to wait until spectators could return the car to the stage. The incident cost him more than two minutes, and he was then held up in the dust of team-mate Petter Solberg. A gearbox problem cost him more time in the same stage. Burns dropped to seventh, and his subsequent fightback was halted by propshaft failure in SS19.

Petter Solberg started this morning's first test hoping to hold off Harri Rovanper? for fourth, and that became a battle for third when Burns slid off. Despite stalling at one hairpin and filling the car with dust at another, and gearbox problems in the last stage, the Subaru driver did enough to score the first WRC podium finish of his career.

Richard Burns said: ''I braked too late for a second-gear corner and the car slid down a bank on the outside of the bend. I kept my foot on the throttle in the hope that it'd pull back onto the road but the bank was too steep and there was too much loose gravel so we had to wait until some people arrived to help us. But it was my mistake - there's nobody to blame but myself. I'd have liked to have taken at least one point, maybe two, but even that wasn't possible.''

Petter Solberg added: ''I'm delighted to get on the podium for the first time, especially on such a hard event as the Acropolis. We've had so much bad luck this year that I nearly cried with relief when I came out of the last stage!''

Meanwhile at Peugeot the sole remaining works 206 WRC of Harri Rovanper? was reliable today. Rovanper? hoped to overhaul Petter Solberg for fourth and that aim was strengthened when Richard Burns dropped back down the leaderboard and promoted Solberg to third. But Rovanper? lost nearly 20 seconds to the Norwegian in this morning's second stage, and he had to settle for fourth overall.

Harri Rovanper? said: ''I'm quite happy with the result, which is as good as we could have hoped for. This morning I tried really hard, perhaps a bit too hard. It's been a hard rally for the Peugeot team and we've had a lot of bad luck recently, though, so it's just good to get to the finish and show that when the set-up is right, the 206 is competitive. This is the first really trouble-free run for the new evolution of the car. We have work to do before Kenya but hopefully we can get a good result there.''

At Mitsubishi the two Mitsubishi Lancers of Tommi M?kinen and Freddy Loix have performed reliably today, but the Belgian lost time in SS18 when an ATS mousse insert flew out of his right-front tyre. He had to stop and change a wheel, and lost nearly three minutes as a result.

Tommi M?kinen knew he had to hold off a charging Fran?ois Delecour this morning, and despite feeling that his Michelin tyres were too hard a compound and construction, the four-times world champion did enough to achieve that. With Burns's and Sainz's problems, he eventually finished fourth. Freddy Loix was held up by Gilles Panizzi's dust when the private Peugeot driver broke his suspension, and he then had to stop and change a wheel in SS18 when a mousse insert flew out of the tyre after six kilometres. He finished ninth, scoring two manufacturers' points for Mitsubishi.

Tommi Makinen said: ''Our tyres were very hard and we did not have such good traction on this event, but at least we've come away with some points and I'm still at the top of the championship. We have work to do before Safari, which will be a big challenge for everybody.''

Freddy Loix noted: ''I think our problem has been a little bit the tyres and a little bit the car here. Certainly on some stages the Pirelli runners seem to have had an advantage over the Michelin cars. We had some problems but at least we have seen the finish and got some points for Mitsubishi.''

At Citroen the sole remaining Xsara WRC of Philippe Bugalski has been reliable today. Bugalski's only moment of concern was a puncture in SS18. Bugalski concentrated on accumulating further gravel mileage in the Xsara WRC, but the Frenchman has been pleasantly surprised by his pace, particularly in the faster sections. He had little chance of improving or losing his position through pace alone, however - Fran?ois Delecour and Armin Schwarz were a minute ahead and adrift respectively - so Bugalski maintained a steady pace to the finish. Sainz's, Burns's and Loix's dramas lifted him to sixth.

Philippe Bugalski said: ''I've been learning all the time on this rally, on every stage. Points weren't that important to me and Citroen can't score manufacturers points anyway, so I didn't take any big risks. I'm pleased to score one, though! I feel more comfortable with this car on gravel now, and I know the team has gained a lot of information. Obviously I would have liked Thomas (Radstr?m) to have finished as well but it's been a good rally for us anyway.''

At Skoda the two Octavia WRCs of Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry have been generally reliable today, as the Czech manufacturer brought both its cars to the finish for the second rough rally in succession.

Armin Schwarz moved his Octavia into the top ten once Gilles Panizzi hit suspension problems on today's opening stage, and the German driver consolidated his placing to the finish. Team-mate Bruno Thiry lost time following Panizzi's dust in that first test, but otherwise the Belgian maintained his pace to finish just outside the top ten.

Armin Schwarz said: ''We can see where we've been losing the time - in the twisty stuff our pace is good but on the really fast open sections we've been losing a bit. It's just down to sheer horsepower. But at least we've proved again that the Octavia is a strong car - that gives us a good base to work from on our Safari test next week.''

Bruno Thiry added: ''It was impossible to see in Panizzi's dust on that stage. We had to stop at one point and then we could see this white car in the distance, and we knew what had happened. It has not been an easy event and perhaps there haven't been as many retirements as we all expected. But like Armin, I'm pleased with the strength of the Octavia and looking forward already to the Safari.''

At Hyundai Alister McRae's Accent WRC2 enjoyed a relatively troublefree day, with only a puncture on this morning's second stage to worry the Scot, until the last stage when a broken driveshaft cost him some time.

After his turbocharger problems and driveshaft difficulties over the opening two days, Alister McRae knew he had no chance of a points finish in Greece but the Scot drove on, setting respectable times as he worked his way back through the top 20. Another broken driveshaft cost him more time on the last stage.

Alister McRae said: ''Today's times prove what we've been saying all along - the potential was there for us to get close to, or in the points here, but the problems we had on days one and two ruined any chance of that. Of course I'm disappointed not to get a points finish, because the stages here suit our car much more than the next rally we're doing, Finland (Hyundai misses the Safari).''

Of the other teams there was a thrilling conclusion to the fight for maximum points in the FIA Teams Cup category for Privateers. Long-time leader Hamed Al Wahaibi retired yesterday evening with wheel damage, allowing Pasi Hagstrom to take over the lead in his Toyota. But the Finnish driver retired this morning when his car lost all of its water by the end of SS16. Abdullah Bakashab then assumed the lead, but the Saudi driver was closed down by Henrik Lundgaard during the last two stages and the Dane eventually took the honours. Gabriel Pozzo won the Group N category for more standard machinery, ahead of Gustavo Trelles.

In the FIA Super 1600 Cup, Sebastien Loeb backed up his Catalunya win with another category success this afternoon. The Citroen driver recovered from his earlier penalties to win by more than three minutes from Italian Fiat driver Andrea Dallavilla.

Rally statistics:

Starters: 64 cars (50 Group A + 14 Group N) restarted the rally Retirements: Sainz (E), Burns (GB) + 14 non seeded drivers

Today: Sunday 17 June:

Leg 3 started from Itea at 07h00 and covered 508.74km, including 126.37km on 7 special stages.

Leg three - stage by stage summary

SS14 Amfiklia 1 (8.25kms):
1. Burns (GB) Subaru 4m 49.6
2. McRae (GB) Ford 4m 51.6
3. Sainz (E) Ford 4m 52.4

Leaders after SS14:
1. McRae (GB) Ford 2h 58m 13.7
2. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 58m 24.3
3. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 58m 26.5

SS15 Elatia-Rengini 1 (38.69kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 25m 37.5
2. McRae (GB) Ford 25m 42.4
3. Delecour (F) Ford 25m 44.6

Leaders after SS15:
1. McRae (GB) Ford 3h 23m 56.1
2. Sainz (E) Ford 3h 24m 10.9
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 3h 24m 53.9

SS16 Livadia 2 (11.66kms):
1. Burns (GB) Subaru 9m 19.2
2. Sainz (E) Ford 9m 19.4
3. Rovanper? (FIN) Peugeot 9m 20.2

Leaders after SS16:
1. McRae (GB) Ford 3h 33m 19.9
2. Sainz (E) Ford 3h 33m 30.3
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 2h 34m 15.3

SS17 Stiri 2 (3.70kms):
1. Sainz (E) Ford 1m 55.6
2. Burns (GB) Subaru 1m 55.9
3. McRae (GB) Ford 1m 56.0

Leaders after SS17:
1. McRae (GB) Ford 3h 35m 15.9
2. Sainz (E) Ford 3h 35m 25.9
3. Burns (GB) Subaru 2h 36m 12.5

SS18 Gravia 2 (17.13kms):
1. Sainz (E) Ford 13m 03.2
2. Delecour (F) Ford 13m 05.5
3. McRae (GB) Ford 13m 05.7

Leaders after SS18:
1. McRae (GB) Ford 3h 48m 21.6
2. Sainz (E) Ford 3h 48m 29.1
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 3h 49m 21.2

SS19 Amfiklia 2 (8.25kms):
1. Sainz (E) Ford 4m 49.2
2. Delecour (F) Ford 4m 49.5
3. McRae (GB) Ford 4m 50.8

Leaders after SS19:
1. McRae (GB) Ford 3h 53m 12.4
2. Sainz (E) Ford 3h 53m 18.3
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 3h 54m 13.9

SS20 Elatia-Rengini 2 (38.69km):
1. M?kinen (FIN) Mitsubishi 25m 32.6
2. Delecour (F) Ford 25m 36.0
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 25m 37.0 .

Leaders in Itea after SS20:
1. C. McRae (GB) Ford 4h 19m 01.9
2. Solberg (N) Subaru +49.0
3. Rovanper? (FIN) Peugeot +1m 35.7
4. Makinen (FIN) Mitsubishi +2m 15.3
5. Delecour (F) Ford +2m 35.4
6. Bugalski (F) Citroen +4m 00.2
7. Schwarz (D) Skoda +5m 56.7
8. Jean-Joseph (F) Peugeot +7m 27.1
9. Loix (B) Mitsubishi +8m 00.9
10. Thiry (B) Skoda +8m 35.7

Group N leaders after SS20:
1. Pozzo (RA) Mitsubishi 4h 40m 17.9
2. Trelles (ROU)Mitsubishi +56.7
3. Ligato (RA) Mitsubishi +8m 31.9
4. Baldacci (RA) Mitsubishi +14m 54.3
5. Hatzitsopanis (GR) Mitsubishi +14m 53.0
6. Drivakos (GR) Subaru +25m 15.1

Super 1600 leaders after SS20:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 5h 00 51.9
2. Dallavilla (I) Fiat +2m 35.9
3. Stenshorne (N) Ford +10m 20.7

Final rally statistics:

Event: The rally covered 1634.10km, including 387.63km on 20 special stages (including nine run twice). All stages were on gravel roads closed to the other traffic. Starters: 115 cars (89 Group A + 26 Group N) started the rally Finishers: 47 cars (37 Group A + 10 Group N) finished the rally Stage Winners:
Sainz (SS9-11-17-18-19)
Burns (SS1-13-14-16)
Delecour (SS7-8-10-12)
Solberg (SS2-15)
McRae (SS4-6)
Martin (SS3)
M?kinen (SS20)
SS5 was cancelled due to spectator congestion.

Rally Leaders:
SS1 Burns
SS2-SS5 Solberg
SS6-SS20 McRae

FIA World Championships (provisional standings after 7 of 14 rounds):

FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers:
M?kinen (FIN) & McRae (GB) 30, Sainz (E) 26, Burns (GB) 15, Rovanper? (FIN) 14, Delecour (F) 11, Auriol (F) 10, Solberg (N) 9, Loix (B) 7, R?dstr?m (S) & Panizzi (F) 6, Gardemeister (FIN) 5, Gr?nholm 4, Schwarz (D) & Arai (J) 3, A. McRae (GB) & Hagstrom (FIN) & Bugalski (F) 1.

FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers:
Ford 60, Mitsubishi 53, Subaru 28, Peugeot 20, Skoda 11, Hyundai 10.

FIA World Cup for Drivers of Production Cars:
Pozzo (RA) 37, Trelles (ROU) 26, Stohl (A) 12, Gillet (CH) & Walfridsson (S) & Da Silva 10, Blomqvist (S) 8, others.

FIA Teams Cup (after 4 of 6 rounds):
Hagstrom (FIN) & Lundgaard (DK) 20, Bakhashab (SA) 15, Papadimitriou (GR) 8, Barratt (GB) 7, Blomqvist (GB) & Al Wahaibi (OM) 6, Heath (GB) 4.

FIA Super 1600 Cup (after 2 of 6 rounds):
Loeb (F) 20, Dallavilla (I) 8, Stenshorne (N) 7, Basso (I) 6, Fontana (I) 4, Robert (F) 3, Magaud (F) 2, Chemin (I) & Ceccato (I) 1.

Next event: July 19-22- 2001: Kenya Safari Rally, Nairobi, Kenya.