Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Martin and Michael Park were fastest through today's second leg of Spain's Rally Catalunya to climb to second overall on this penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car won three of today's eight asphalt speed tests in the mountains north of Barcelona and finished second on four more to end the day 20.8sec behind leader Sebastien Loeb - despite continuing neck pain which again hindered Martin throughout the day.

Team-mates Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot won one special stage and finished second on two more in a similar Focus RS as the Belgians ended the day in fifth, having closed to within 3.6sec of world championship leader Carlos Sainz in fourth. Twice the Focus RS cars finished in one-two formation and Ford BP drivers have now won five of the 16 tests held over the opening two days, a total not beaten by any other team.

Bright sunshine and dry roads greeted drivers for a second day in the mountains close to Vic. The eight stages covered 103.56km and many were covered in dirt and gravel after being used yesterday, thanks to cars cutting corners and dragging grit onto the clean asphalt.

Martin continued to suffer from neck problems, the result of his heavy accident on the Rallye de France in Corsica last weekend.

"It wasn't too bad early this morning but it became worse on the longer stages," said the 27-year-old Estonian. "They took a lot of energy out of me because as the stages went on, I used more and more energy fighting to keep my head in the right position. Luckily the stages weren't so long today. On the long straights it's OK because they give my neck a rest but on the twisty sections it's hard. It needs time to recover but it can't have any. I think the muscles in my neck are having a holiday!"

Despite his injury, Martin continued to set a blistering pace in his Castrol-backed Focus RS. Having started the day in third, he quickly climbed to second before a charging Gilles Panizzi edged ahead by just 0.1sec. But fastest time on two of the three afternoon tests and second fastest on the other saw off Panizzi's challenge and he will start tomorrow's final leg 15.9sec ahead of the Frenchman. Such was the pace of the Focus RS, that data from the car indicated Martin reached a top speed of an incredible 215kph on the day's final stage.

"It will be hard for me to catch Sebastien tomorrow unless he makes a mistake but, as we know, anything can happen and I can win this with a little help from him. My car has been incredible today. It's so good that even an injured man can set fastest times," he added.

Duval's only difficulty came on the middle group of tests when a 'long' brake pedal forced the 22-year-old Belgian to pump the brakes to ensure full stopping power. The team fitted a new pedal box in service but after exceeding the time limit by one minute, Duval received a 10 second penalty.

"Apart from that, the Focus RS has been perfect and I've really enjoyed driving today," he said. "Tomorrow will be hard. The stages are relatively new to me while Carlos has driven them many times before, so he has the advantage of experience. Of course, it's possible to catch him and the second run through the stages will be our best chance of taking the time back. During the first pass we'll be checking and changing our pace notes if necessary while on the second run we'll push hard. It should be good fun and I'm really looking forward to battling with the Spaniard in front of his home fans."

Finns Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are 15th in a 2002 specification Focus RS, run by M-Sport. After brake difficulties on the opening loop of stages, 22-year-old Hirvonen settled into the day with the aim of learning more about the character of the roads on his debut in Spain.

"We opted for a harder suspension set-up this morning to see how that affected the car on dry asphalt. It was maybe too hard, but I learned from it and that was the important point. I have more learning to do tomorrow. We have started the stages with 14 cars ahead of us all day and so the asphalt has been quite dirty where they have cut corners, but that's all part of me gaining experience," he said.

After two days of bright sunshine and dry asphalt, rain is forecast for tomorrow, which could bring unpredictable conditions in the mountains and difficult tyre choices for all drivers.



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