The cruel nature of the Acropolis Rally was made crystal clear on today's second stage when FIA Junior World Rally Championship leaders Francois Duval and Jean-Marc Fortin were forced to withdraw from the event.

Having dominated yesterday's first leg and taken a 1 min 06.9sec overnight lead into today's opening pair of stages, the Belgian duo's Ford Puma lost a front wheel half way through the second of them. In another day of attrition, only 8 of the 12 cars that started today are still in the 'junior' event.

"The stage conditions weren't too bad," said the 21-year old Duval. "We had been forced to drive in some deep ruts near the start where the WRC cars had cut up the road but after that we had been able to avoid the worst of the rocks. There was no warning that we had a problem but the front-left wheel came off and we had no choice but to park the car at the side of the road. Obviously I'm very disappointed because I was hoping to collect a maximum 10 points here. It's not the end of the world, though, because the high rate of attrition may yet mean that I'm still leading the championship after the rally!"

If tonight's positions are maintained tomorrow then Duval will retain his JWRC lead.

Team manager Chris Birkbeck explained: "We don't really know what caused the problem and it's something we've never experienced before. It's disappointing but the team can still take a lot of positive things from this performance. Until this happened, the Ford Puma had stood up magnificently to the challenge of the Acropolis Rally and been totally dominant. We'll regroup and be back in Germany."

Duval's retirement promoted Britain's Martin Rowe to third place and highest Ford Puma crew. Rowe's careful driving was paying dividends and the British Champion was determined to be at the finish.

"We're maintaining the same steady pace because we've got enough time in hand to avoid the big rocks. After what happened to Francois we've checked everything very carefully and we are confident that everything is OK."

He punctured on the 37.16kms SS9 (the tyre tore off the Puma's front wing and light cluster) but continued without stopping to change the wheel. "It wasn't a hard decision to make with Caldani in your mirrors!" joked co-driver Chris Wood. The car was given a thorough check over at service, receiving new driveshafts, brake pipes and suspension as a precaution.

Alejandro Galanti's frustrations of the first day continued into the second when his Ford Puma suffered an unusual problem at the start of today's first stage. "The front-right and rear-left struts began sticking," said the Paraguayan driver. "It made the handling very interesting for the first two stages!" he joked. Combined with a faulty gear position sensor that left him unsure of what gear he was in at times, he was glad to reach service and rectify both problems before bringing the Puma home in seventh place tonight.

Astra team principal Luca Pregliasco added: "Right now the challenge is to get cars to the finish. I'm proud that Astra is still in the competition and I hope we can still be there tomorrow afternoon."

Eighth placed Alexander Foss suffered another rear damper failure today. "We came over a crest, landed badly and it broke," he said. "It wasn't a major problem and it hasn't changed our strategy to learn as much as we can about this event. I'm happy to still be in the event and I'll be happier still if I'm at the finish..."

News from Ford's 'Junior' rivals:

Half of the FIA Junior World Championship drivers retired during yesterday's opening leg in Greece and the attrition rate wasn't slackening off today either. Engine problems ended Gwyndaf Evans' run in the MGZR on the road section after SS7 and clutch problems put out Kosti Katajamaki's VW Polo soon afterwards. Christian Chemin rolled his Fiat Punto into retirement on SS8. Following Francois Duval's retirement, Jussi Valimaki and Janne Tuohino took up the leading positions in their Citroen Saxos but both were fortunate to reach today's first service. Valimaki had to contend with low fuel pressure on both opening stages and the engine also cut out three times on SS10. Tuohino's exhaust fell off on the second test. Engine problems on the third Citroen cost Andrea Dallavilla road penalties before he lost power steering on SS10 while Nicola Caldani had earlier had to tackle SS8 with the same problem.

Tomorrow's route:

The third and final leg of the Acropolis Rally is again based around the service area at Lilea-Parnassos. Cars leave parc ferme at 0800 to tackle two stages, Inohori and Karoutes, that featured on the opening day as SS5 and SS2 respectively. After service (1121) the crews then head out for the final pair of stages, Elatia and Mendenitsa. Elatia is once again the longest stage of the rally and this demanding test has already been run as SS9 today. After a final service halt, crews then drive to Itea for the podium with the overall rally winner expected to crack open the champagne at around 1604.

Overall JWRC after SS12 - Leg two:

1.Jussi ValimakiCitroen Saxo3hours 47mins 48.7secs2.Janne TuohinoCitroen Saxo+00mins 08.4secs3.Andrea DallavillaCitroen Saxo VTS+03mins 23.9secs

4.Martin RoweFord Puma+03mins 37.8secs5.Nicola CaldaniPeugeot 206 XS+05mins 05.6secs6.Daniel SolaCitroen Saxo VTS+05mins 18.4secs7.Alejandro GalantiFord Puma+06mins 38.2secs8.Alexander FossFord Puma+31mins 68.4secs

NB. No other JWRC crews are classified.