Forty-five cars left the coastal resort of Lloret de Mar this morning for the second leg of this penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Clear blue skies and temperatures of about 7?C greeted competitors as they arrived in Vic for service prior to the opening group of three speed tests north-west of the town. Medium compound slick dry weather tyres were the choice for Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Martin and Michael Park and team-mates Fran?ois Duval and Stephane Prevot on their Focus RS World Rally Cars, both opting for additional cuts in their Michelin rubber.

The action began with the 23.08km Olost test, an undulating flat-out blast along a main road and the fastest special stage so far. Martin started well by posting second fastest time to climb to second while fourth quickest for Duval extended his advantage over Richard Burns. Things were even better for the Ford BP team when Martin and Duval were fastest and second quickest respectively on the technical and twisty 14.04km Lluca, the second stage win of the event for the 27-year-old Estonian.

Martin completed a good morning by posting second fastest time on the 12.85km Sant Boi de Llucanes tests, the exact reverse of yesterday morning's La Trona stage, to arrive at the Vic service park 26.2sec behind Sebastien Loeb. He has narrowed the gap by 5.0sec this morning. Duval was fifth through the stage to reach Vic just 11.0sec behind fourth-placed Carlos Sainz. He has reduced the Spaniard's advantage by 17.8sec this morning.

"My neck is still causing me problems," said Martin. "It's not been too bad this morning but was getting worse on the last stage. It needs time to recover but it can't have any. I think the muscles in my neck are having a holiday! The car still feels perfect and we've made a good start. The last stage was incredibly fast, maybe too fast. It was like a race track."

Duval had a big vibration from the front left tyre on the opening stage. The Belgian replaced the tyre after the test but the handling felt awkward for the remaining two stages.

"The vibration came right up through the steering and the brakes didn't work properly," he said. "I think the vibration was so severe it may have affected the handling."

Finns Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are 15th in their 2002-specification Focus RS, run by M-Sport, despite choosing tyres that were too soft and opting for a suspension set-up that was too hard.

 

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