Daniel Sola continued to dominate the second leg of the Rallye de France - Tour de Corse in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and the Spaniard now holds a 1 minute 28.7 second advantage over fellow Mitsubishi driver Niall McShea.

Gianluigi Galli, who had previously led the contenders driving Group N machinery - albeit not in a Championship-registered Lancer - retired today after setting a blistering pace in the opening leg. In total, Mitsubishi drivers hold eight of the 11 positions in the Production Car World Rally Championship [PCWRC].

Today's leg took the crews to the north and south of the island's capital in Ajaccio and promised to be a mammoth day of rallying. The route may well have only covered six asphalt mountain stages however at 190 competitive kilometers it is not only the longest leg of the event but the lengthiest of the year. Today's distance equated to 43.43 per cent of the total competitive distance of the rally and no fewer than four of the six stages were longer than 38 kilometres.

Fifty-five of the original 62 crews took the start this morning and while blue skies greeted the drivers, overnight rain had left the roads damp and rain then fell heavily in the second stage, causing havoc for some of the leading World Championship crews, many of whom were on dry weather slick tyres. The unpredictable weather conditions then continued throughout the day, some crews winning and other losing out over the twisty and abrasive roads on the rugged island where nerves of steel and canny judgement were required to succeed.

Sola has once again underlined his prowess on these roads and the Spaniard won five of today's six stages, bringing his tally to 11 of the 12 stages run so far. A puncture in stage 11 - the only stage he did not win - lost him a minute and increased the pressure, but the reigning Junior World Rally Champion still has a comfortable lead in his Lancer Evolution.

"It's been hard work today," he said. "It is so difficult to pick the right tyres in these conditions and it is so easy to make a mistake. We have to keep concentrating until the very end."

McShea has put in a superb drive in his Lancer Evolution to retain second place, keeping Sola in his sights. The Northern Island driver has also struggled hard to make the right tire choices and is the only other driver on the Production Car leaderboard to have won a stage.

"We've made a couple of wrong tyre choices, but I guess everyone will make a few mistakes when the weather's like this," commented McShea. "It's hard work because it's just so easy to make a mistake, but I'm enjoying it."

Behind McShea are Subaru drivers Toshihiro Arai and Martin Rowe, the only two contenders now fighting for the FIA PCWRC title. Arai may well have a comfortable lead over Rowe, but the Japanese must win the event to have any chance of claiming the 2003 crown.

Behind Stig Blomqvist in fifth position, Belgium's Bob Colsoul holds sixth in another Lancer Evolution, while Poland's Janusz Kulig has slipped to seventh after losing time with technical problems earlier in the day.

"It's the first time I've done the rally and it's tough when the weather is like this," added Kulig. "One corner you have grip, then the next you don't. The main thing now is to finish."

Sunday's final leg closes with two 56.05 kilometer loops of two stages to the south of Ajaccio. More long stages lay in wait and it will be no cruise to the finish at 14:30 hrs [GMT+2].

Picture credit: Mitsubishi.

 

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