The final round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship is poised for a grandstand finish tomorrow, after a second leg filled with drama on the Rally of Great Britain.

Newly-crowned world champion Marcus Gronholm crashed out of the event this morning, opening up a close fight for the lead between Ford's Markko Martin and Subaru driver Petter Solberg.

Neither of these drivers, part of the sport's younger generation, has won a world championship event before. They ended the day separated by just under two seconds, so a close finish to the season looks likely.

Gronholm was one of the several drivers to be caught out by a stretch of asphalt road on the day's third stage, ''Halfway 1''. His retirement means that he cannot now match Didier Auriol's record of six victories in one season. But Peugeot still has an outside chance of matching Lancia's record of nine wins in a year - outgoing world champion Richard Burns moved up to fourth today, behind Carlos Sainz and ahead of Tommi Makinen, Sebastien Loeb and Colin McRae.

The Ford Focus RS WRC02s of Martin, Sainz, McRae and Mark Higgins have all been reliable during leg 2, although the Spaniard and the Scot broke windscreens in Crychan 1. Higgins' only worry occurred when he suffered a gearbox glitch and was unable to select neutral before the start of a stage with the paddle-shift system. Using the regular gear stick solved the problem, though, and the paddle system worked fine once he'd started the test.

Martin attacked hard in Resolfen this morning and it was enough to catapult him back past Solberg into second overall. But the Norwegian fought back in the next two stages as Martin was left dissatisfied with his choice of tyres. Their battle turned into one for the lead on the second of those tests, Halfway, when leader Gronholm crashed out, so Estonian Martin now has a chance to claim his first world rally victory. He ended the day, following the final Cardiff Super special 1.6 seconds ahead of Solberg.

Sainz meanwhile felt that his tyre choice for the long Resolfen test this morning was not perfect, but the Spaniard has kept in touch with the leaders throughout this afternoon. He completed leg 2 in third, less than half a minute off the lead.

McRae, inched closer to Makinen today and then in the final run over the superspecial this evening, he spun dropping to seventh overall behind Citroen's Sebastien Loeb. Ford's fourth driver, Higgins, has been satisfied with an improvement in his pace as he moved up to eighth overall.

''I don't really feel any pressure - we can only try our best, after all,'' noted Martin. ''If we make a spin and lose the rally because of that tomorrow, then I'll be disappointed. But if we do our best and Petter wins just because he's been that bit quicker, then fair enough.''

Team-mate Colin McRae added: ''It's clearly going to be pretty close between the two guys at the finish. I'm not sure that both of them will get to the end without having a problem of some kind - maybe a mechanical problem or a mistake.''

At Subaru Solberg and Makinen have experienced no real problems with their Impreza WRC2002s, although like many, the Finn broke a windscreen in Crychan 1.

Solberg lost time to overnight rival Martin on this morning's opening stage, when the Subaru driver had a half-spin. But thereafter, he inched closer and closer to the Ford driver as the afternoon progressed, taking even more risks after Gronholm crashed out and promoted their tussle from a scrap to second to the fight for the lead.

His team-mate Makinen has not been able to match Solberg's pace and the Finn also ceded a position to the recovering Burns, but he did manage to fend off Colin McRae and held fifth at the end of play.

Solberg noted: ''I've been taking even more risks this afternoon than I was yesterday. If I want to have a chance to win then I've got no choice - I have to try. It's going to be a good fight - I think the first, long stage of the day will be crucial.''

The Peugeot 206 WRCs of Burns and Gilles Panizzi have been reliable. Gronholm's car suffered hydraulic problems on the stage before he crashed out, however. Harri Rovanpera also hit trouble - his car broke a left-rear wheel bearing in the day's third stage, forcing Rovanpera to disconnect the rear brakes and limp through both Crychan and Halfway before he reached service.

Gronholm set fastest time on today's opening, long stage but then his car was hit by hydraulic problems in SS9, forcing him to resort to the manual gearshift. On the next stage, he was caught out by a stretch of asphalt road and rolled into retirement.

His team-mate Burns has continued his recovery after his first-day accident; the Englishman has moved up to fourth overall, albeit still nearly a minute behind leaders Martin and Solberg.

The third 206 WRC driver, Rovanpera, was slowed by a broken wheel bearing in today's third stage and he had to disconnect the rear brakes to stand any chance of limping back to service this evening. He did so, but the Finn had dropped out of the top 10 as a result. Peugeot's fourth entry, Gilles Panizzi, holds 13th overnight after another steady day's driving.

''I was just too fast for the corner and for the jump, and we went off,'' said Gronholm. ''I'm disappointed, because it hadn't felt like we were really pushing or taking risks.''

Team-mate Burns continued: ''The gap looks too big to the leaders but of course we'll try. Between Petter and Markko, it's really too close to call.''

At Citroen Sebastien Loeb lost time this morning when his Xsara WRC's dashboard failed in the opening stage, forcing him to drive for more than 40km with no indication of what gear he was in. Team-mate Thomas Radstrom retired in the same stage when his car holed its sump and lost its engine oil.

Loeb looked in danger of being swallowed up by the recovering McRae and Burns this morning, especially after his car's dashboard failed in the long Resolfen stage, forcing him to drive without any gear indicator. The young Frenchman halted his slide this afternoon, however, posting third fastest time in the last run over Halfway. He ended the day sixth overall.

The second Xsara driver Radstrom retired in Resolfen this morning - he cut a corner too tight and holed his car's sump, causing a terminal loss of engine oil.

Loeb said: ''It was hard in Resolfen without the gear indicator, because that's a really long stage and you need as much confidence as possible. But this afternoon has been going better, because I've found quite a good setting for the car and I'm getting more confident.''

Hyundai's Armin Schwarz's Accent, meanwhile, caught fire in this morning's opening stage. The car could be repaired for the following tests, but the German was told not to continue because he was clearly ill with smoke and fumes inhalation. The cars of Freddy Loix and Juha Kankkunen have been reliable, though.

Kankkunen and Loix have maintained their steady progress up the leaderboard. Kankkunen did lose time in Resolfen, however, when he stopped to give team-mate Schwarz a fire extinguisher to put out the flames on his burning Accent. Organisers allocated the four-times world champion a better time later in the day, though. He ended the day in tenth overall but under pressure from Peugeot's Rovanpera.

Loix felt his car wasn't handling perfectly in Resolfen but a switch to softer springs restored his confidence in the Accent. Loix holds ninth overnight, less than 20 seconds clear of Kankkunen.

The third Accent of Schwarz was halted this morning - an exhaust-related problem caused a fire at the rear of the car and although the former European champion was able to extinguish the flames and return to service, Hyundai's team doctor believed that the German had inhaled too much smoke for him to continue.

Freddy Loix said: ''I've got quite good confidence in the car now, especially after that suspension change. There's not much more we can do except try to keep the same speed tomorrow. It looks like Harri will charge back past us but as we've seen today, anything can happen.''

The Skoda Octavia WRCs of Toni Gardemeister and Roman Kresta have been generally reliable, although both drivers felt that they were experiencing minor differential problems (centre and rear respectively) in the day's closing forest stages. Gardemeister also broke his windscreen on the same branch that caught out many of the top drivers. In a contrast to yesterday, meanwhile, Kenneth Eriksson's car performed without any major problems.

Young Finn Gardemeister believes that he cannot extract much more performance from his Octavia WRC, but the young Finn ended today's forest stages unsure of his car's handling on hard, slippery surfaces. He was 12th overall, following the final Cardiff superspecial.

Eriksson enjoyed a troublefree day after his glitches yesterday, and the veteran Swede used his improved reliability to move into 15th. His young team-mate Kresta is less than half minute behind in 16th.

''When there is some gravel it's fine but as soon as the surface gets polished or greasy and hard, we just lose grip and the car starts to go all over the road,'' noted Gardemeister. ''Maybe it's the front or centre differentials - I think we need to look at them closely. Of course I'm just trying flat out and we've had a few moments, but I'm reasonably happy.''

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evo WRCs of Francois Delecour and Jani Paasonen were reliable this morning, but both were ultimately forced to retire with accident damage in SS10.

Mitsubishi lost both of its cars in the space of a few miles on today's third stage, Halfway. First, Finn Paasonen was distracted by spectators flagging him down at the scene of Gronholm's accident and he slid off and rolled out at exactly the same place. Paasonen then complained of neck pains and he was taken to hospital as a precaution.

Delecour got through the same asphalt stretch without problems, but then he, too, slid off after his stand-in navigator Dominique Savignoni called a pacenote slightly too late over a crest. He clouted some rocks, damaging the front suspension of his car beyond repair.

''There was no way I could possibly make the corner, because the note came just at the crest and we were in sixth gear at the time,'' said Delecour. ''There was a big, big rock on the outside of the corner and it hit the front suspension very hard. To be honest, I was waiting for another impact but it never came. It's disappointing, obviously, but I know this event hasn't been easy for Dominique.''

Of the other entries Spanish driver Daniel Sola is on course to win the FIA Junior World Championship, since he held a comfortable category lead after today's last forest stage.

The Citroen Saxo driver's title rival, Andrea Dallavilla, lost time with two punctures. The Italian wasn't alone in suffering deflations - challengers Niall McShea, Janne Tuohino and Gwyndaf Evans all suffered a similar fate.

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Rally statistics - Leg 2:
Starters: 73 crews (55 Group A and 18 Group N) started this morning.
Retirements: Schwarz (D), Radstrom (S), Gronholm (FIN), Delecour (F), Paasonen (FIN), and 13 other drivers.
Today - Saturday 16 November: Leg 2 started from Cardiff at 06h00 and covered 508.39km, including 117.04km on six special stages.
Tomorrow - Sunday 17 November: Leg 3 starts from Cardiff at 05h30 and covers 489.09km, including 138.50km on four special stages. The first car is expected to arrive at the finish ramp in Cardiff at 16h40.
Weather forecast: Scattered cloud and occasional heavy showers.

Stage by stage summary - Leg 2:
SS8 Resolfen 1 (54.69kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 28m 56.5
2. Burns (GB) Peugeot 29m 01.7
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 29m 08.4
Leaders after SS8:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 36m 03.1
2. Martin (EE) Ford 1h 37m 10.8
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 1h 37m 19.1
SS9 Crychan 1 (12.67kms):
1. Solberg (N) Peugeot 7m 03.6
2. Burns (GB) Subaru 7m 04.7
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 7m 06,7
Leaders after SS9:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 43m 09.8
2. Martin (EE) Ford 1h 44m 17.8
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 1h 44m 22.7
SS10 Halfway 1 (17.28kms):
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 9m 50.8
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 9m 52.7
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 9m 53.9
Leaders after SS10:
1. Martin (EE) Ford 1h 54m 13.1
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 1h 54m 16.6
3. Sainz (E) Ford 1h 54m 29.8
SS11 Crychan 2 (12.67kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 7m 07.1
2. Martin (EE) Ford 7m 07.7
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 7m 09.1
Leaders after SS11:
1. Martin (EE) Ford 2h 01m 20.8
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 2h 01m 23.7
3. Sainz (E) Ford 2h 01m 41.8
SS12 Halfway 2 (17.28kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 9m 59.9
2. Martin (EE) Ford 10m 01.1
3. Loeb (F) Citroen 10m 01.5
Leaders after SS12:
1. Martin (EE) Ford 2h 11m 21.8
2. Solberg (N) Subaru +1.8
3. Sainz (E) Ford +27.4
SS13 Cardiff Super special 3 (2.45kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 2m 07.9
2. Martin (EE) Ford 2m 08.1
3. Sainz (E) Ford 2m 08.8

Leaders after SS13:
1. Martin (EE) Ford 2h 13m 29.9
2. Solberg (N) Subaru +1.6
3. Sainz (E) Ford +28.1
4. Burns (GB) Peugeot +57.7
5. Makinen (FIN) Subaru +1m 40.5
6. Loeb (F) Citroen +2m 03.1
7. C.McRae (GB) Ford +2m 03.5
8. Higgins (GB) Ford +3m 00.8
9. Loix (B) Hyundai +3m 12.7
10. Kankkunen (FIN) Hyundai +3m 30.0