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Colin McRae still in the lead after leg two.


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 Grönholm'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 Mäkinen, 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. François 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 Grönholm 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. François 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.''



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