Ford driver Colin McRae has extended his advantage on the fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Cyprus Rally, which continued today.

McRae's Focus WRC started today's eight scheduled tests less than seven seconds clear of Marcus Gr?nholm's Peugeot but by the time the cars returned this evening's overnight halt in Limassol, he'd extended that gap to more than 25s.

The Cyprus Rally's switch to a spring date raised the chance of occasional showers but crews had to cope with everything from dust to rocks, thunderstorms to deep mud during today's tests. Many drivers described SS12 as the worst conditions they'd ever had to compete in, with deep water-filled ruts and treacherous mud.

One part of the final stage was so bad that organisers elected to scrap the stage from the schedule. The difficult roads clearly suited Tommi M?kinen, though - the four-times world champion moved from fifth to third today.

The event's tough reputation has finally started to be backed up by additions to the retirements list. Fran?ois Duval succumbed to an oil pump problem this morning, while Freddy Loix and Alister McRae were both sidelined by gearbox problems during the middle loop of three stages.

Colin McRae expected to have to fight off Marcus Gr?nholm this morning and the Finn initially gained the upper hand, closing to within two seconds of the lead by lunchtime service. But the Scot responded in the afternoon's deteriorating weather to enter this evening's sole remaining test more than 25s clear.

Markko Martin struggled with brake problems this morning and a badly misted screen didn't help his cause in the torrential rain of SS11 and SS12. The Estonian spun on the tvelwth test and he ended SS13 in sixth, behind both Harri Rvanpera and Richard Burns. Fran?ois Duval could have benefited from Martin's problems but the young Belgian had already retired - oil pump problems forced him to pull over and stop in SS9.

Carlos Sainz, meanwhile, has recovered strongly after his problem-filled opening day. The Spaniard set a number of fastest stage times as he charged back towards the top ten. He holds 12th overnight.

Colin McRae said: ''The conditions in SS12 were easily the worst I'd ever seen. There were massive ruts and it you tried to break in the water-filled bits you just aquaplaned. If you got out of the ruts, though, you ended up in pure mud. The gap looks fairly good but so much depends on the conditions.''

Markko Martin added: ''It's been quite a difficult day actually. I just lost confidence in the brakes this morning and then when the rain came, the screen misted up badly and I couldn't see anything. There was actually one point where Michael (Park) called a two-left and I missed it completely because I just couldn't see where the road went.''

Fran?ois Duval continued: ''It was disappointing to retire on the second stage today because we'd chosen tyres that really suited the third stage of the loop and I know we could have done a good time there. I think I proved that I can do good times, but of course I wanted to get to the finish.''

At Peugeot meanwhile the 206 WRCs of Marcus Gr?nholm, Richard Burns and Harri Rovanper? have been reliable, although Gr?nholm, felt his car's wheel alignment was far from perfect for the middle loop of three stages.

Gr?nholm started his charge for the lead in style this morning, taking five seconds out of Colin McRae over the opening three stages. But once the conditions deteriorated the 2000 world champion lost time to the Ford driver, and he entered the closing stage of the day more than 25s behind.

Richard Burns, meanwhile, has found improved form after his problems yesterday. The reigning champion moved ahead of team-mate Harri Rovanper?, Skoda's Kenneth Eriksson and Ford driver Markko Martin, although like many, he considered himself lucky to have emerged from SS12 without an accident. Rovanper? achieved that but he'd already rolled in SS11 - the Finn overturned his 206 at a slow hairpin and then had to compete in the SS12 downpour with a badly-broken windscreen and a broken side window in his door. He only dropped 3.6s to Burns in the test, though, so he entered SS13 just 8.6s behind the Briton. The fourth 206 driver, Gilles Panizzi, continued to gain experience of the gravel roads and he ended the day in 11th.

Marcus Gr?nholm said: ''I really thought I'd lose more time to Colin when the rain came. In fact, Timo (Rautiainen) said to me halfway through the stage, 'Colin's going to catch us soon!' and I said, 'Yeah, maybe you're right!' but in the end, he only took about 15 seconds. There's still a lot to fight for but the conditions are really difficult.''

Harri Rovanper? added: ''I rolled at a really slow hairpin. I thought the car was going to go back onto its wheels again and in fact, I actually reached for the ignition switch to make a quick restart. But then it went back onto its side so we had to wait for spectators. It made the next stage in the rain very difficult, because the windscreen was very bad - we had mud on the inside - and my own side window was broken too. Every time I went sideways I got covered in mud!''

Richard Burns continued: ''There were places in SS12 where we would normally be in fifth gear and we were in second - the roads were that slippery. Harri did very well in there not to lose more time with his problems.''

The Subaru Impreza WRC2002s of Tommi M?kinen and Petter Solberg have been generally reliable, although M?kinen did suffer a slight scare with low boost pressure in SS8.

M?kinen has been today's pacesetter - the four-times world champion moved clear of Markko Martin this morning and with Fran?ois Duval also retiring, the Finn entered the day's closing stage in third overall. A tyre gamble backfired in the SS12 downpour, though, and he dropped nearly a minute to second-placed Gr?nholm as a result.

Petter Solberg has also set some fast times as he continues to recover from his catalogue of problems yesterday. The Norwegian actually benefited from running first on the road at times - particularly in SS11, when he got a dry run before his rivals were hampered by rain. He ended SS13 in eight.

Tommi M?kinen noted: ''It's been good today. We made some small changes to the suspension and now I have a much better feeling with the car. I don't know how much higher we can go but we'll keep pushing. This is the sort of rally where anyone can hit problems and that could make a big difference yet.''

At Skoda Kenneth Eriksson has lost time with differential hydraulic pressure problems today. Although the Skoda team tried to fix the problem at lunchtime service, it continued to trouble the Swede this afternoon. He also suffered from a misted screen in the heavy rain of SS12. Toni Gardemeister also struggled in the same stage - the young Finn's wipers failed and he had to stop around a dozen times to wipe his windscreen. He'd earlier lost time with gearbox glitches.

Eriksson's differential problems have thus dropped him down the order, since he's been unable to defend his sixth place against rivals like Richard Burns and Harri Rovanper?. He still entered today's last stage in seventh place, however.

Toni Gardemeister lost time with gearbox problems this morning, then he had to stop a dozen times in SS12 to clean his screen after his windscreen wipers failed. He holds 16th overnight. The third works Octavia driver, Roman Kresta, crashed out in SS12.

Kenneth Eriksson noted: ''It's been hard with the differential problems today. The front and centre diffs are losing pressure and the car's difficult to turn in. Braking's pretty unpredictable as well. It's a shame we've had problems because so many others have had glitches too and we could have benefited from that.''

Hyundai's Armin Schwarz has enjoyed a basically troublefree day in his Accent WRC3, but Freddy Loix was forced to retire his example when it stuck in second gear in SS12. The Belgian had to try to find first gear for a steep hill but he could select neutral and nothing else, so he retired on the spot. Tomasz Kuchar's car has struggled with overheating today, meanwhile.

Schwarz entered the day's closing stage in eighth overall. Team-mate Tomasz Kuchar continued to gain experience of the Accent WRC, but the Pole lies 15th overall.

Armin Schwarz said: ''Conditions this afternoon were absolutely terrible. I took it very easy in the standing water because we know that we can cause a misfire that way, but it was almost like wet roads in Kenya.''

Mitsubishi lost Alister McRae's Lancer Evo WRC in SS12 after the Scot suffered gearbox problems and lost drive. Fran?ois Delecour watched seconds tick by this morning after a driveshaft failure in the day's longest stage, SS9, and then the Frenchman's windscreen wipers failed in the heavy rain of SS12. Jani Paasonen, meanwhile, retired on today's opening stage with broken steering after he clouted a rock.

Delecour broke another driveshaft this morning, losing more valuable seconds, but the Frenchman at least had one lucky break when he got a predominantly dry run through SS11 before the heavens opened. His luck turned on the following test, though - his windscreen wipers failed in heavy rain, forcing him to stop twice to clean the screen of mud. He entered the closing stage in 14th. Alister McRae lost time with a slow roll on today's second stage and then the Scot's rally ended with gearbox failure in SS12.

Alister McRae said: ''The roll was at a really slow hairpin left. I think the right-front wheel must have been right on the outside edge of the road and when I accelerated, the car just slid off the road and rolled down onto the road below. We landed on our roof and pointing the wrong way up the stage so we found some spectators and they helped us.''

Fran?ois Delecour added: ''It's been another difficult day for us. The driveshaft this morning cost me more time but the biggest problem for me was the wipers in the heavy rain. It was just impossible to see where I was going, especially when mud splashed onto the screen.''

Of the other entries Proton driver Karamjit Singh leads the Group N category, after yesterday's class leader Giovanni Manfrinato crashed out this morning. Bulgarian Dimitar Iliev holds second, while multiple class champion Gustavo Trelles lost time when he stopped to change a tyre.

Rally statistics - day two:

Starters: 47 cars (27 Group A and 20 Group N) restarted the rally.

Retirements: Paasonen (FIN), Duval (B), A. McRae (GB), Kresta (CZ), Loix (B), and 8 other drivers

Today - Saturday 20 April: Leg 2 started from Limassol at 06h00 and covered 640.29km, including 145.97km on eight special stages.

Tomorrow - Sunday 21 April: Leg 3 starts from Limassol at 08h00 and covers 309.12km, including 81.88km on six special stages. The first car is expected to arrive at the finish control in Limassol at 16h30.

Weather forecast: Staying warm but with a continuing chance of heavy showers.

Stage by stage summary - Leg two:

SS7 Prastio-Pachna (10.92kms):
1. Sainz (E) Ford 6m 29.0
2. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot 6m 29.4
3. McRae (GB) Ford 6m 31.0

Leaders after SS7:
1. McRae (GB) Ford 1h 34m 13.3
2. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 34m 18.6
3. Martin (EE) Ford 1h 34m 34.5

SS8 Platres-Saittas (11.25kms):
1. Sainz (E) Ford 9m 21.2
2. McRae (GB) Ford 9m 27.6
3. Rovanper? (FIN) Peugeot 9m 29.2

Leaders after SS8:
1. McRae (GB) Ford 1h 43m 40.9
2. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 43m 49.3
3. Martin (EE) Ford 1h 44m 13.1

SS9 Kourdali-Spilia (30.62kms):
1. M?kinen (FIN) Subaru 29m 21.8
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 29m 28.8
3. Sainz (E) Ford 29m 34.1

Leaders after SS9:
1. McRae (GB) Ford 2h 13m 23.6
2. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 13m 25.5
3. M?kinen (FIN) Subaru 2h 14m 12.9

SS10 Prastio-Pachna (10.92kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 6m 14.3
2. Rovanper? (FIN) Peugeot 6m 16.2
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 6m 16.8
3. M?kinen (FIN) Subaru 6m 16.8

Leaders after SS10:
1. McRae (GB) Ford 2h 19m 42.8
2. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 19m 44.8
3. Martin (EE) Ford 2h 20m 35.8

SS11 Platres-Saittas 2 (11.25kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 9m 02.7
2. McRae (GB) Ford 9m 19.9
3. Delecour (F) Mitsubishi 9m 23.5

Leaders after SS11:
1. McRae (GB) Ford 2h 29m 02.7
2. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 29m 12.6
3. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 2h 29m 31.7

SS12 Foini-Koilinia (29.88kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 29m 31.3
2. McRae (GB) Ford 30m 06.3
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 30m 21.8

Leaders after SS12:
1. McRae (GB) Ford 2h 59m 09.0
2. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 29m 34.4
3. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 3h 00m 48.3

SS13 Platres-Saittas 3 (11.25kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 9m 24.6
2. Burns (GB) Peugeot 9m 32.1
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 9m 33.3

Leaders after SS13:
1. McRae (GB) Ford 3h 08m 50.5
2. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 09m 16.7
3. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 3h 10m 35.3

SS14 Foini-Koilinia 2 (29.88kms):

Leaders after SS14 - Leg two:
1. C.McRae (GB) Ford 3h 08m 50.5
2. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot +26.2
3. Makinen (FIN) Subaru +1m 44.8
4. Burns (GB) Peugeot +1m 55.1
5. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot +2m 04.9
6. Martin (EE) Ford +2m 13.4
7. Eriksson (S) Skoda +2m 37.1
8. Solberg (N) Subaru +2m 40.6
9. Schwarz (D) Hyundai +2m 45.9
10. Stohl (A) Ford +5m 55.6