Sebastien Loeb headed the leaderboard as the cars arrived back in Monaco on this opening round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship.

The second leg of the rally didn't get underway until SS8, following the organiser's decision to cancel the seventh stage due to the high number of spectators present.

When the day's rallying did start, Loeb reduced Marcus Gronholm's lead to 12.8 seconds. Loeb admitted he'd taken risks and pushed hard through the 25km Saint Antonin-Tourette du Chateau test. Gronholm had felt ill-at ease running slick racing tyres on the damp and occasionally icy surface.

Gronholm hit a wall six kilometres into the following stage breaking a steering link on his Peugeot. The Finn's demise left Loeb to head a Citroen one-two-three back into the principality. Colin McRae holds second place just over one minute behind Loeb, but 37.1 seconds ahead of Carlos Sainz. Markko Martin is fourth, despite feeling unwell.

The rally was disrupted by a road traffic accident on the A8 this afternoon. The road was blocked and 21 crews were re-routed back to Monaco where they were put into parc ferme.

Peugeot's Gilles Panizzi retired on the second stage this morning, feeling unwell. The two remaining 206 WRCs driven by Gronholm and Richard Burns ran without problems.

Gronholm started the day at the head of the field, but lost time to Sebastien Loeb on stage eight. The Finn then lost control of his 206 WRC on an icy stretch of the following test and hit a wall with the right-front wheel. He continued to drive for 12km, but was forced to stop. He radioed the team and explained what had happened. Gronholm then fitted a new steering link to the car and was able to carry on. He lost 33 minutes repairing the car, but was able to set a competitive time through the day's final stage. He has dropped to 15th position.

Burns took a wrong tyre choice for the final two stages of the day, running a compound of Michelin slick tyre that was too hard for the damp roads. Burns dropped almost two minutes through the first stage, but not so much on SS10 which was drier. Burns lies fifth.

''When I stopped after I'd hit the wall, I thought I'd retired, so I was taking my time fixing the car,'' noted Gronholm. ''When it was done Jean-Pierre Nicolas came on the radio and asked if I could carry on. If I'd known I would have changed the part faster. It is very disappointing, I feel the same way as before I started this rally: I don't like it very much.''

Team-mate Burns commented: ''This was a complete disaster. The tyre choice was totally wrong. I thought I might lose a little time to the others on the icy parts of the road, but I thought it would work much better everywhere else. It didn't. I couldn't get any heat into the tyres, even in the dry corners we were almost going off the road.''

At Citroen McRae's Xsara WRC suffered a minor misfire on SS8, otherwise all of the Citroens ran faultlessly throughout.

The day ends with a perfect score for Citroen. Loeb made a flying start to the second leg of the Monte Carlo Rally, pushing hard through SS8 he closed in on leader Gronholm. He moved into the lead when Gronholm crashed into a wall on the very next stage. Loeb admitted he'd been driving very hard himself through the ninth stage. When he realised what had happened to Gronholm, he took a more measured approach through the day's final test.

McRae's car started to misfire in the second half of SS8, but the Scot said it only cost him about five seconds, and the problem was traced to an electrical misconnection in service which followed back in Monaco. McRae was happy with his run through the final two stages, making the right tyre choice.

Carlos Sainz's enjoyed another trouble-free day in his third-placed Xsara WRC, although he said the cancellation of the first stage of the day had compromised the choice of tyre on the following test.

''It was a nice fight we were having with Marcus, it was pretty open, but then he made a mistake on what was a really difficult stage. I'm in a good position right now, but I have to make sure that I can keep this rhythm up tomorrow,'' said Loeb. ''I don't want to think about the win, the rally is not over yet.''

McRae added: ''Things are looking good right now, this has the potential for being a brilliant start for the team, but I've been in this position on the Monte too many times before; we'll see how tomorrow goes.''

Sainz continued: ''My tyre was too soft for SS8, it would have been okay for SS7 - but they cancelled it. I'm going to have to work hard to keep Markko [Martin] behind me tomorrow.''

Markko Martin and Francois Duval's Ford Focus RS WRC cars ran without fault, Mikko Hirvonen though crashed on SS9.

Martin was ill overnight suffering from a stomach bug. He felt gradually better as the day progressed, but admitted he hadn't been able to drive as fast as he would have liked. Martin went off the road three times after he'd come over the top of the Col and onto the snowy and icy descent on the Les 4 Chemins-Sigale stage. Despite his illness, Martin set consistently quick times to hold fourth overall.

Duval suffered from understeer for the final five kilometres of SS8 and then he struggled on the slippery ninth stage. Duval says his priority for the final day of the event is to gain further experience of the rally and try to get past Peugeot privateer Roman Kresta who is 19.8 seconds ahead. Duval is eighth.

Hirvonen crashed out of the rally on the ninth stage. He went off the road on ice and rolled his Focus.

''My problems started at three o'clock this morning when I woke up feeling really bad,'' said Martin. ''On the way up to the first stage I thought I was going to be sick, it was pretty lucky for me that they cancelled it. In all of the stages today I've felt really weak. At times I didn't know if I would have enough strength to push the brake pedal. The times are good and the car is perfect, it's just a shame that I was ill.''

Hirvonen added: ''I made one small mistake, but on this rally that's all you need. We entered a right-hand corner too fast and went off the road, we weren't even pushing hard.''

At Hyundai Armin Schwarz's Accent continued to suffer from the wrong set-up for the drying asphalt stages. Freddy Loix slid off the road and retired on SS9.

Schwarz felt the drier roads accentuated the handling difficulties, which plagued the Accent WRC. The German driver reported no new problems on his Accent and said it would be dangerous for him to try and drive the car any faster.

Loix felt changes to the differential settings on his car hadn't helped with traction in the corners, but it had made the car easier to slow down. Unfortunately for the Belgian he went off and into a ditch on the Chemins-Sigale stage. The car was undamaged but couldn't be extricated from the ditch.

''When we have no set-up for the car then we are just playing, and on an event like this, you can't really manage like that,'' said Schwarz. ''I will continue to push as hard as I can.''

Sven Smeets, Loix's co-driver added: ''We were going down from the Col de Bleine and hit some ice, we went into a ditch. It's so annoying, the car is unmarked and only just off the road, but it's in the snow and not coming out.''

Didier Auriol's Skoda Ocatvia WRC meanwhile suffered a problem with the car's clutch on the eighth stage, apart from that the car ran well. Toni Gardemeister retired yesterday on SS2 with an engine fault.

Auriol has continued to make good progress up the leaderboard, ending the day in tenth position. The Frenchman made slight alterations to his car's set-up at the lunchtime service in Monaco and enjoyed the afternoon's two stages. Auriol said he felt more at home on the dry asphalt, and said the car was as good as he could make it for this event.

''The feeling is coming for me. The problem with the car this morning, is that when you handbrake the car at hairpins you need to put the clutch in, when the clutch problem came the car kept stalling,'' said Auriol. ''I stalled three times in stage eight, which was frustrating. The only problem this afternoon was the ice, which was so dangerous. At times we were coming down the hill at 30km and you just don't dare touch the throttle.''

Of the other entries Renault driver Bruce Tirabassi holds a comfortable lead in the Junior World Rally Championship category. The Clio was promoted to the front of the field when Daniel Carlsson [Suzuki] was late getting into parc ferme last night and has retired. Kosti Katajamaki is second in his Volkswagen Polo. The 1600cc drivers only completed one stage today, after SS7 was cancelled and a road accident blocked their route to stages nine and ten.

Cedric Robert leads the privateer World Rally Cars in sixth place, with Roman Kresta right behind him in a Bozian-run sister 206 WRC.

Rally statistics - Leg 2:

Starters: 44 crews (all Group A) started this morning.

Retirements: Panizzi (F), Loix (B), Hirvonen (FIN) and 2 other drivers.

Today - Saturday 25 January: Leg 2 started from Monaco at 06h40 and covered 413.99km, including 114.52km on four stages.

Tomorrow - Sunday 26 January: Leg 3 starts from Monaco at 08h00 and covers 269.16km, including 104.20km on four stages. The first car is expected to arrive in Monaco at 15h00.

Weather forecast: Cold overnight but sunny tomorrow.

Stage by stage summary - Leg 2:

SS7 Chemins-Sigale (32.11km):
Cancelled

Leaders after SS7:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 07m 24.7
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 2h 07m 45.3
3. McRae (GB) Citroen 2h 08m 41.3

SS8 Saint Antonin-Tourette (25.15km):
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 18m 08.0
2. McRae (GB) Citroen 18m 13.6
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 18m 15.8

Leaders after SS8:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 25m 40.5
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 2h 25m 53.3
3. McRae (GB) Citroen 2h 26m 54.9

SS9 Chemins-Sigale (32.11km):
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 24m 59.3
2. Sainz (E) Citroen 25m 09.0
3. Martin (EE) Ford 25m 12.9

Leaders after SS9:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 2h 50m 52.6
2. McRae (GB) Citroen 2h 52m 08.5
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 2h 52m 46.7

SS10 Saint Antonin-Tourette (25.15km):
1. Sainz (E) Citroen 17m 52.3
2. McRae (GB) Citroen 17m 53.4
3. Martin (EE) Ford 17m 54.2

Leaders after SS10 / Leg 2:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 3h 08m 54.0
2. McRae (GB) Citroen +1m 07.9
3. Sainz (E) Citroen +1m 45.0
4. Martin (EE) Ford +2m 24.4
5. Burns (GB) Peugeot +3m 38.9
6. Robert (F) Peugeot +5m 11.5