The second leg of Rally Australia again saw the top drivers juggling their positions in preparation for tomorrow's crucial final leg.

Today's frantic action saw Richard Burns initially capitalise on his overnight fourth place to charge into a comfortable lead, before tactics again appeared on the final forest stage of the day.

Driver's adjusted their pace to try and determine optimum starting positions for tomorrow's third and final leg. The Sotico plantation special stage (formerly Bunnings) being where the cleaning effect of the 'ball-bearing' road surface will be most prominent.

With both Fords now out of the event, Tommi Makinen has a golden opportunity to extend his title hopes into the final event of the year. However the Finn says he's not thinking that far ahead just yet.

"We're just trying to win this rally," he said. "We've got to get our tactics just right. Obviously my championship chances have improved over the past 24 hours but I still need Richard and Marcus to have problems if I'm really going to have any hope."

Makinen's biggest problem was that his road position today left him unable to react to other drivers' actions. "I've got to try and guess what they're going to do," he admitted. He had planned to pace himself against Juha Kankkunen but that idea was destroyed when his fellow Finn crashed out of the event - leaving Makinen to run first tomorrow.

World Championship leader Marcus Gronholm tried a little too hard on Wellington Dam today, overshoting a junction, but that would be the Finn's only real mistake."Tactics are ultimately going to decide this rally," he later confirmed.

Team mate Francois Delecour found that running second on the road was no great advantage, but was still happy with his overall performance. "A lot of these stages are ones I last drove in 1993," he said, "so I'm fairly satisfied." Team mate Gilles Panizzi, however, is still a long way off the lead - but has been improving his pace all day.

Richard Burns set the fastest time on the first stage - immediately taking the rally lead. However, he then had to play the tactics game again to ensure that he could again reap the benefit of clear roads in Sotico tomorrow.

Burns had initially been trying to open up a sufficient advantage to avoid having to adopt such a tactical approach on the final stage. Unfortunately for the Englishman, it was believed that a minimum of two minutes' lead would be required, and that was clearly out of reach as the day progressed.

Overnight rally leader Juha Kankkunen crashed out on the final forest stage. The Finn had earlier refused to resolve speculation that he may have just two more chances to add to his World Championship Rally win tally, before possibly retiring, "I'll be making a decision about my future after the Rally of Great Britain," he said

Ford had lost the second of its registered cars when the event stewards excluded Carlos Sainz for stopping between the warning board and the flying finish at the end of SS9.

The Spaniard admitted that his mistake had been embarrassing but, along with team manager Malcolm Wilson, again expressed his belief that something needs to be done about the situation that forced crews to play the tactical game so obviously.

With both Martini cars out, Ford's third car, that of Tapio Laukkanen, became the focus of the team's attention. At today's first service the young Finn shook hands with all the mechanics and thanked them for coming out to help him!

Didier Auriol attempted to solve the Cordoba's handling problems with a gearbox switch after SS12, having previously experiencing problems with the differential ''We're trying hard but the differential mapping problems are making the car very hard to drive,'' he said.

By contrast Toni Gardemeister has continued to impress with some solid driving that kept him in the top ten throughout the day. "This morning's grip was better than we expected and we could have pushed harder. We had hoped to do that on Wellington Dam but we had a vibration from the front wheel that prevented us going flat out and we just concentrated on finishing the stage," he explained.

Hyundai continued to enjoy one of its best events of the year with both Kenneth Eriksson and Alister McRae setting times at the sharp end of the top ten. Alister McRae's performance even took him past five-time Australian Champion Possum Bourne. Unfortunately the joy was short-lived as on the next stage, Stirling West, the Scotsman hit something that broke a suspension arm on the Accent WRC, forcing him to retire.

The battle for Group N supremacy appears to have swung decisively in favour of reigning Champion Gustavo Trelles, over the Spike Subaru driver Toshihiro Arai and current championship leader Manfred Stohl.

Arai, driving a Group N car instead of his preferred Group A example, and Stohl remain locked in a close battle for second - with Trelles comfortably clear up front.