Ford's Markko Martin has ended leg two of the Corona Rally Mexico today [Saturday] in the lead, following Sebastien Loeb's retirement in between stage six and stage seven.

Martin started the day fourth after Petter Solberg was handed a penalty, dropping him from the top of the pack to 13th. The Estonian enjoyed a largely trouble free-leg, his biggest difficulty coming towards the end of stage eight, when smoke started to fill the car.

"It was a strange morning. I finished yesterday in fifth, started this morning in fourth and then within two stages I was leading," commented Martin, "But I'm not complaining! My driving was better than yesterday but still not perfect. I'm fighting against myself and still can't find exactly the right rhythm so it was all a bit messy sometimes.

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"We always have to hope, but to expect a lead like this yesterday was too optimistic to think about. It's a good example of how unpredictable rallying is. We have to expect the unexpected and hope it doesn't happen to us. It's been hard work today, certainly not a joy ride, but I'm happy and I have to ensure I don't make a mistake tomorrow."

While Martin was 'joyous', Loeb had a disastrous day, the Frenchman's car landed on a rock after a jump on stage six. The impact cracked the sump and although the crew tried to make repairs on the following liaison section, the oil leaked from the engine and they retired. He had been leading by over 30 seconds.

"Coming out of a very fast corner, the car took off," explained the Frenchman, "Where it touched back down, the road was cambered, with, in the middle, a rock solidly set in the compacted earth. The lower protection was lifted up, and the oil emptied out of the damaged sump.

"Of course, this [retirement] is a great disappointment. We were leading, setting our pace on that of Markko. Yesterday, Petter's problems put me in the lead. Today, I'm the one to suffer bad luck. The outcome of a rally sometimes depends on fate. You have to learn to accept it."

His team-mate Carlos Sainz now takes up the mantle for Citroen, the Spaniard second at the end of the day, despite a tyre mix up, which meant he drove the afternoon stages on the same rubber he used in morning when his team mistakenly nominated exactly the same tyres.

"Starting off for this third loop [SS8, 9 and 10], I did my best to get rid over any pressure from the 'tyre incident'," he noted, "I tried to go as quickly as possible while managing the tyres. Today, the rally has had its fair share of surprises. It could be the same again tomorrow. Nothing is over yet - it is still all to play for!"

With Sainz 14.4 seconds off the lead, third placed driver, Francois Duval is only 3.7 seconds off making it a Ford one-two. The Belgium though has already revealed that he is prepared to settle for third, and not risk it all by pushing to hard for second.

"We've had a really good attack today," said Duval, "Tomorrow will be exciting but I would prefer to finish third than risk going off the road chasing second. I need to finish in the points for Ford and I need to finish to improve my experience here so to go off wouldn't be good. I've made no mistakes and the car has been absolutely perfect but there's still a long way to go."

Behind the Ford driver is Subaru duo Mikko Hirvonen and Petter Solberg, the former escaping with damaged suspension after hitting a rock on the final stage of the first loop. Solberg though was easily the sensation of the day, after receiving a five-minute penalty after his car was illegally pushed into the final service park on Friday when it refused to start and he refused to give up and was fastest on all six stages to climb to back-up to fifth.

"It's been a very, very good day," commented the Norwegian, 2I haven't been going crazy and this was the speed I planned to be doing today anyway. Last night I was so fed up, I really didn't want to drive at all. But today after the first stage I thought well, maybe this isn't so bad after all. I'm trying to do my best, I'm happy with the car and my driving has felt good all day. I'm just hoping to do the same again tomorrow."

Further back Marcus Gronholm has dropped to sixth, power steering woes in this morning's loop of stages costing him valuable time - he lost almost five minutes.

"It was very frustrating to have all these problems as I am sure that we could have been challenging for the lead otherwise," he said, "We've all got to work hard to make sure that none of these failures happen again. It was an extremely difficult morning and my arms felt very sore, but the afternoon was a bit better until the hydraulics failed on the road section before the final stage. This meant that we had no differential pressure for the last stage and we also had to use the manual gear-change. Things can only get better tomorrow!"

Peugeot team-mate Harri Rovanpera also lost time, dropping 16 minutes on stage seven when his car's front right suspension arm broke shortly before the finish. The Finn stopped to remove the wheel before completing the stage on three wheels. He dropped to 20th overall at the end of the leg.

"It was a real pity, as the steering arm broke without warning on a right-hand corner. We spoke to our engineers who told us to remove the wheel, and then we were able to limp out of the stage," said the Finn. "But 16 minutes is too much time to lose, so now it is a question of gaining as much experience of the car as possible, in order to help us for the future. We've also got a few things to test tomorrow. When we have no problems the car feels very good, and I think we have shown that we have the pace to run near the front."

Gilles Panizzi meanwhile keeps the flag flying for Mitsubishi, and despite gearbox problems in the morning, and an overheating engine in the afternoon, ended the day eighth, poised to score the final championship point.

"I don't know what the cause of the transmission problem was this morning but it was exactly the same as we had in Monte Carlo," he explained. "In service we changed back to yesterday's gearbox and it felt fantastic again but we then had a small problem with the engine. On the slower parts where there were lots of corners it overheated but then it was OK again in the faster sections and we had no real problems on the final two stages. The roads were also hard on the shock absorbers and they received quite a beating."

Team-mate Gigi Galli however retired on the first stage with broken suspension, he was the only other works retirement - taking the current tally to two.

"We're not too sure what happened to be honest," he said. "The stages were quite rough and I think that was the reason the front right suspension broke about two thirds of the way through the first stage this morning. We managed to make repairs and drive out but we couldn't continue. I'm a bit disappointed as I really need to cover as many kilometres as possible in this car for experience. But with rallying you have to expect the unexpected."

Of the rest Jussi Valimaki heads the privateer runners, seventh overall, while Anthony Warmbold is ninth and Production Car World Rally Championship leader, Daniel Sola completes the top ten.

Sola, who is over 3 minutes up on Toshi Arai, who is second in the PCWRC category, commented: "Today has been hard, but very good. I have driven fast where it is possible to drive fast and the car is working well. I can slow down a bit now, but I don't want to lose concentration."

In total 28 cars completed the second leg, bringing the total number of retirements to just over 50 per cent [54 cars took the ceremonial start on Thursday].

The third and final leg of Corona Rally Mexico starts tomorrow at 0630hrs, when the remaining cars will leave Leon parc ferme for the first service of the day. Crews will then travel east of Leon to contest the final five stages (two of which are repeated), and a total of 132.06 competitive kilometres. The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp at 1430hrs.