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Colin McRae takes the lead but no luck for Martin.


Ford driver Colin McRae holds the overnight lead on the seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally, which continued today.

The Scot took over the top position when his young team-mate Markko Martin had to stop to change a flat tyre on the day's longest stage, and McRae enjoys a 33-second cushion over fellow Briton Richard Burns.

Yet again, the rough Greek roads have inflicted a surprisingly small amount of damage on the manufacturer entries, with only one retirement (Hyundai's Juha Kankkunen). But the re-use of stretches of road has caused concerns about tyre wear and suspension, and placed mechanical strength at a premium as several close battles in the top ten moved towards the final day.

The Ford Focus RS WRC02s of Colin McRae and Markko Martin have all been reliable, although Martin lost time when he suffered a right-rear puncture and had to stop to change the wheel in SS9. Sainz lost time in the day's final stage when his car's gearbox stuck and then began to select gears of its own accord. The Spaniard had to stop and change the unit back to manual mode before he could continue.

Martin started today's stages expecting a strong challenge from his team-mate Colin McRae and the Scot quickly grabbed just over two seconds from his overnight advantage in the day's opening stage. Martin fought back, though, taking nearly six seconds from McRae in SS8 to hold a lead of just under a minute at the day's second service. However, in the long Elatia stage Martin punctured a right-rear tyre and the rubber began to damage the rear of the car, so he stopped to change the wheel. The resulting time loss handed the lead to McRae (who'd passed Freddy Loix in the opening stage) and dropped Martin out of the points. He ended the day eighth and embroiled in a fight with Petter Solberg and Sebastien Loeb.

McRae, meanwhile, consolidated his lead to eke out a 33s cushion over Richard Burns. Carlos Sainz lost a place to Marcus Grönholm this morning but the Spaniard in turn moved past Harri Rovanperä in the day's longest stage. Gearbox problems cost him time in the last stage of the day, but he still holds fourth overnight, albeit more than 45 seconds off a podium place.

Colin McRae said: ''Today moved things back in our direction but regardless of what happened with Markko, we're still involved in the same battle with the people behind us. We've just got to keep them behind tomorrow.''

Markko Martin noted: ''We had about 12km to go in the long stage and I felt the tyre at the right-rear start to go down. Then the rubber was moving around - I tried to carry on for about another two kilometres but it was going to do some serious damage so we had to stop to change the wheel. We don't carry a nut gun because of weight, so we had to use the wheel brace and it took some extra time. Then when we got going again, we'd just been passed by Bruno Thiry so we had to drive in his dust.''

At Peugeot the 206 WRCs of Richard Burns, Harri Rovanperä and Marcus Grönholm have been ok today, although the team is to inspect Rovanperä's differentials at this evening's service after he suffered excessive tyre wear for much of the day.



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