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Loeb in command on the Rallye Deutschland.

Richard Burns has enjoyed a cleaner run, although he has complained of fading brakes and a softening middle pedal on some stages. Harri Rovanperä's 206, meanwhile, has been reliable.

Grönholm and Burns tied for the fastest time on today's opening stage and the Finn led on his own after SS2, but he dropped back after the following test when he suffered hydraulic problems that left him with no differential pressure. He incurred road penalties in service as his team worked to cure the problem, and dropped to tenth as a result. He recovered in the later stages to end the day in sixth. Burns, meanwhile, lost time with intermittent brake fade but he kept his car in the top three placings. He ended the day in second overall, around half a minute behind leader Loeb.

The third 206 WRC driver, Harri Rovanperä, holds 11th overnight as he continues to gain more experience of asphalt competition.

''It's disappointing to lose the time so early in the rally, really,'' said Gronholm. ''Already I would say it's impossible to catch Sebastien, but there are still two days left and maybe we can make up enough positions to aim for the podium.''

Richard Burns continued: ''The brake problem has been more annoying than anything because it just affects your confidence. That aside, it's been going okay for us today. The conditions have been quite tricky, because you still find five percent of corners where the road is still damp, and maybe 30 percent where it's quite dirty and slippery.''

Colin McRae's Ford Focus RS WRC02 was reliable until today's final stage, when it suffered power steering failure and lost its brakes. Both Carlos Sainz's and Markko Martin's cars suffered gear change glitches during this morning's opening batch of stages (Sainz lost no time because his problem occurred on a road section). Ford's engineers modified the mechanism at this morning's first service, and none of the crews reported any repetition of the problem thereafter. Martin then suffered a mousse insert break-up on today's closing stage.

McRae has kept his Focus in a points-scoring position throughout today's stages, although the Scot admits that he will need unpredictable weather or heavy showers to stand a chance of fighting with the top three crews. He holds fourth overnight.

Sainz, meanwhile, holds ninth after he lost time by sliding wide at one corner in SS5, and then getting a junction wrong in SS6 and turning the wrong way. He had to reverse before he could take the correct route, and he lost at least 10 seconds as a result. Markko Martin is 13th after he lost time this morning with gear selection problems.

''It's not been a perfect day because we're losing time to the Peugeots and Citroens but we're not too far behind, at least,'' commented McRae. ''I don't think there's anything we can do about it. Tomorrow's quite a different place but we'll have to see if that makes any difference. A bit of rain might level things out a bit and give us more of a chance but it's hard to tell.''

Carlos Sainz added: ''The problem at the junction was my mistake. It wasn't very well marked and I just tried to turn hard left when I should have gone nearly straight on. Suddenly the road was totally blocked in front of me! It's the sort of place where a small mistake can cost you a lot of time.''



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