Citroen driver Jesus Puras has tightened his grip on the 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Tour de Corse, which continued today.

The Spaniard started today's seven stages with a 10-second cushion over his nearest rival, Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot), but by the time the crews returned to the overnight halt in Ajaccio he'd extended that lead to nearly 24s.

The notoriously fickle Corsican weather caught out many of the world's best rally drivers with occasional rain showers today. Didier Auriol saw his hopes of a push towards the lead dampened when heavy rain started as he sat on the start line of SS7, while his team-mate Marcus Gr?nholm slid wide two stages later and damaged his Peugeot beyond repair. There was also frustration for title hopeful Colin McRae - having moved inside the top ten he lost more than four minutes on today's closing pair of stages, after he hit a rock and damaged his car's power steering.

Jesus Puras's Citroen Xsara WRC has been reliable today. Fastest time on today's opening, long stage gave Jesus Puras's overnight lead a small boost and although he occasionally lost time to both Gilles Panizzi and Didier Auriol, the Spaniard still posted four further fastest times to increase his advantage to nearly 24s by the end of today's action.

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Puras said: ''It has been a difficult day. The occasionally damp conditions are probably the worst of all, because it becomes impossible to work out which corners have grip and which ones don't. My gravel crew wasn't allowed into stages 11 or 12, which meant we had to go carefully because we weren't totally sure of what conditions lay ahead. But apart from that it's been going fine - the car is superb, exactly how I want it to be. I'm totally focused and I'm very confident that we can give the Xsara WRC its first world championship win tomorrow.''

At Peugeot the 206 WRCs of Gilles Panizzi and Didier Auriol have been ok today, although Panizzi suffered a puncture on today's opening stage. Marcus Gr?nholm felt less confident than his team-mates on worn tyres but his car also ran without trouble until he hit a wall in SS8 and lost a wheel. Although he reached the end of the test the damage was too severe to consider tackling the following, 30km stage.

Gilles Panizzi managed to beat Jesus Puras on two of today's seven stages, but the Frenchman has already settled for second overall and maximum manufacturers' points for Peugeot. His main goal has been to keep team-mate Didier Auriol at bay - the 1994 world champion drew level (to the tenth of a second) in SS6, but in SS7 Panizzi got a drier run as a rain shower started just as Auriol left the line. The resulting half-minute loss effectively left Auriol with only a safe third place to defend, and he too has settled for his position and manufacturers' points. The third 206 WRC of Marcus Gr?nholm dropped time in the opening long stage and then retired after losing a wheel in SS8.

Gilles Panizzi said: ''I think we basically need rain if we're to stand a chance of catching Jesus tomorrow but to be honest, I won't be taking any big risks because we are in a very good position for Peugeot. The stages have been very difficult today with the surface and grip levels changing all the time. I don't understand our puncture on the first stage today, either.''

Didier Auriol added: ''It's just bad luck that the rain started for me and not for Gilles or Jesus. If you take away the time we lost there then we'd be right there, fighting for the lead. But there's no point to push extra hard - if Gilles and I both give our absolute maximum then it seems we're level, so I can't really close the gap.''

Marcus Gr?nholm noted: ''The accident was my fault. It was a corner where you take quite a big cut and I didn't take enough! We slid wide, hit a wall and lost the wheel. We got to the end but the damage was just too bad. I'm disappointed because I think I was setting some quite good times and I want more asphalt experience.''

Richard Burns's Subaru car has encountered small gearbox problems today, with the gearbox 'slow shifting' in some places. The Imprezas of Petter Solberg and Markko Martin have been reliable, although Martin suffered brake fade in the penultimate test and an EMI mousse break-up in its front-right tyre on the day's final stage.

Solberg moved closer to Marcus Gr?nholm on this morning's first two stages and thus eased into fourth when the world champion crashed in SS8. In particular, a hard push on a softer tyre compound reaped rewards for the young Norwegian in the opening, long test. He fought with Francois Delecour thereafter and although he'd dropped back to fifth entering the day's final stage, the Frenchman's problems meant that Solberg ended the day in fourth and with more than 40s in hand. Markko Martin, meanwhile, suffered from acute back pains in the first loop of three stages and nearly blacked out on more than one occasion. His seat padding was boosted for the final three stages, although his cause there wasn't helped by fading brakes and an EMI mousse break-up in his front-right tyre. He still ended the day in sixth, however. Richard Burns made up five places on today's opening stage and by the end of the leg he'd climbed from 13th to seventh, albeit nearly 40s behind Martin.

Petter Solberg said: ''Of course I'm delighted with how it's all going. I've got a really good feeling with the car and the time on today's first stage was great - we hadn't much left in our tyres by the end of it, though! It's been a really difficult day with changing conditions and difficult tyre choices. As for tomorrow, I don't think we can do anything about the guys in front unless they have problems.''

Meanwhile over at Ford both Colin McRae and Francois Delecour hit technical problems today. McRae lost his power steering after he clouted a rock in today's penultimate stage, while Delecour lost his brakes completely for the final, 30km test.

Colin McRae hit bad luck when he punctured on today's opening stage but the Scot recovered well, relishing the changeable and damp conditions in the first run over the loop of three stages to set a fastest time in SS8. In doing so, he moved up to seventh. But 10km before the end of the penultimate stage, he hit a rock that had been pulled into the middle of the road by an earlier car and shortly afterwards, he lost power steering. By the time he'd completed that test and the 30km stage that followed, he'd lost more than four minutes and dropped back to 12th. Francois Delecour also hit trouble - the Frenchman had moved clear of Petter Solberg in fourth place but a vibration and a loss of brakes for the day's final stage dropped him back to fifth.

Colin McRae said: ''The stone was in the middle of the road and there was no way we could avoid it, but it wasn't even that big and it's very annoying to have lost so much time because of it.''

His team-mate Francois Delecour added: ''We lost some time on the harder compound tyres earlier today, because it rained and we were sliding everywhere! Then we recovered and got past Solberg again but about three kilometres into the last stage, we lost all the brakes and got a vibration. I thought for a second that I hadn't tightened the wheel nuts properly after swapping tyres but when I got to the finish, I checked and I had. We hadn't hit anything either, so it's very frustrating.''

The Hyundai Accent WRC2s of Alister McRae and Piero Liatti have been generally reliable today. McRae did suffer from excessive tyre wear in the first loop of three stages, though - this was later attributed to a tracking problem. Liatti also saw the water temperature light flashing during the first, long stage but his engine survived intact.

Alister McRae and Piero Liatti have moved up the leaderboard today, thanks to improved handling from the Accent in the changeable conditions and the problems that hit Colin McRae and Marcus Gr?nholm. Liatti now holds eighth and his team-mate occupies ninth, and the pair are both on course to score manufacturers' points for the Korean marque.

Piero Liatti said: ''It was a bit strange - the suspension settings seemed to work better when the conditions got damp! I'm fairly happy with the car anyway - I think we have found quite a good balance and I'm quite comfortable at this speed. I don't know if we can improve much more tomorrow but the aim has to be to score some points for Hyundai.''

The sole remaining Mitsubishi Lancer WRC of Freddy Loix has gone well today and the team again played with suspension and differential settings in an attempt to cure understeer.

Loix started today knowing that his Tour de Corse had effectively been turned into an extended test session, but the Belgian and his Ralliart engineers managed to dial out some of the understeer that's plagued his event so far. In doing so, he moved from 32nd to 14th by the close of today's action and posted fifth fastest time on one stage. The Mitsubishi team has also issued an update on the condition of Tommi M?kinen's navigator Risto Mannisenmaki, who was injured in the Finn's accident yesterday afternoon. He is to undergo an operation for a back injury on Monday morning but his condition is described as 'comfortable'.

Freddy Loix said: ''The car's handling a bit better now. We've been trying so many things that I'm not even sure what's made the difference, but the understeer exiting corners has been reduced. At least we can take something from this rally because we can say we've made some progress with the car.''

At Skoda the remaining Octavia WRC of Armin Schwarz had to retire in today's fourth stage after it hit power steering problems. Schwarz felt that suspension changes had improved the handling of his Octavia WRC today but on the ninth stage, the car's power steering started to hit glitches and the German elected to retire rather than risk his own safety and that of spectators.

Armin Schwarz said: ''It was like Russian Roulette. The power steering would work for 15 corners but then on the 16th, it wouldn't and there was strong chance of crashing. We had some very dangerous moments and in the end, I just realised that it wasn't safe. We had to retire. I'm disappointed because with the changeable conditions I think there could have been retirements and we still had a reasonable chance of picking up a manufacturers' point or two.''

Of the other teams Sebastien Loeb moved back into the lead of the FIA Super 1600 Cup section on today's opening stage, after overnight leader Andrea Dallavilla had to cope with no power steering for nearly 30km. Tyre choice problems hit many of the category challengers in the first run over the loop of three stages, but Loeb extended his advantage by early afternoon to more than half a minute. Cedric Robert holds third, despite picking up road penalties as his team fought to cure power steering problems.

In the Group N category for more standard machinery, class leader Giovanni Manfrinato crashed out in SS11 and with yesterday's second-placed man Jean-Marie Santoni also retiring after he hit a bridge, multiple champion Gustavo Trelles now enjoys a healthy advantage over Jean Marc Sanchez.

Rally statistics:

Starters: 71 cars (43 Group A + 28 Group N) restarted the rally Retirements: Schwarz (D), Gronholm (FIN) + 8 other drivers

Today - Saturday 20 October: Leg 2 started from Ajaccio at 08h00 and covered 279.31km, including 155.55km on seven special stages.

Tomorrow - Sunday 21 October: Leg 3 starts from Ajaccio at 08h50 and covers 243.49km, including 111.68km on four special stages. The first car is expected at the final control in Ajaccio at 14h50.

Weather forecast: Cloudy with a strong chance of showers

Stage by stage summary - Leg two:

SS6 Ste Marie Sicche (36.73kms):
1. Puras (E) Citroen 23m 38.2
2. Auriol (F) Peugeot 23m 41.1
3. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 23m 41.9

Leaders after SS6:
1. Puras (E) Citroen 1h 27m 35.1
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 1h 27m 49.3
2. Auriol (F) Peugeot 1h 27m 49.3

SS7 Gare de Carbuccia (11.02kms):
1. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 7m 14.3
2. Puras (E) Citroen 7m 16.4
3. McRae (GB) Ford 7m 40.0

Leaders after SS7:
1. Puras (E) Citroen 1h 34m 51.5
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 1h 35m 03.6
3. Auriol (F) Peugeot 1h 35m 30.5

SS8 Vero-Pont D'Azzana (18.28kms):
1. McRae (GB) Ford 13m 06.0
2. Auriol (F) Peugeot 13m 16.9
3. Delecour (F) Ford 13m 17.2

Leaders after SS8:
1. Puras (E) Citroen 1h 48m 21.6
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 1h 48m 30.3
3. Auriol (F) Peugeot 1h 48m 47.4

SS9 Lopigna-Sarrola (30.11kms):
1. Puras (E) Citroen 19m 33.8
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 19m 41.0
3. Auriol (F) Peugeot 19m 41.8

Leaders after SS9:
1. Puras (E) Citroen 2h 07m 55.4
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 2h 08m 11.3
3. Auriol (F) Peugeot 2h 08m 29.2

SS10 Gare de Carbuccia (11.02kms):
1. Puras (E) Citroen 7m 17.8
1. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 7m 17.8
3. Auriol (F) Peugeot 7m 19.2

Leaders after SS10:
1. Puras (E) Citroen 2h 15m 13.2
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 2h 15m 29.1
3. Auriol (F) Peugeot 2h 15m 48.4

SS11 Vero-Pont D'Azzana (18.28kms):
1. Puras (E) Citroen 12m 48.1
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 12m 49.4
3. Auriol (F) Peugeot 12m 53.4

Leaders after SS11:
1. Puras (E) Citroen 2h 28m 01.3
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 2h 28m 18.5
3. Auriol (F) Peugeot 2h 28m 41.8

SS12 Lopigna-Sarrola (30.11kms):
1. Puras (E) Citroen 19m 23.4
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 19m 29.7
3. Auriol (F) Peugeot 19m 32.8

Leaders after SS12:
1. Puras (E) Citroen 2h 47m 24.7
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot +23.5
3. Auriol (F) Peugeot +49.9
4. Solberg (N) Subaru +2m 38.4
5. Delecour (F) Ford +3m 22.6
6. Martin (EE) Subaru +3m 40.4
7. Burns (GB) Subaru +4m 19.2
8. Rovanper? (FIN) Peugeot +5m 24.6
9. Liatti (I) Hyundai +5m 34.6
10. A. McRae (GB) Hyundai +6m 00.3