Frenchman Sebastien Loeb continues to lead the Rallye Sanremo, round eleven of this year's FIA World Rally Championship.

The Citroen Xsara WRC driver is in the strange position of having finished each stage slower than second-placed Markko Martin, but still enjoys a bigger lead than the one he started with this morning.

The reason for this is that Martin had a 30-second time penalty added to his overall time after he was late leaving service while the Ford mechanics solved an electrical problem on his Focus RS WRC03.

Loeb confessed that with a one-minute cushion, there wasn't the need for him to drive on the limit the way he had through the opening leg. Loeb's day was without incident - save for a stall at a hairpin on the day's second test. Loeb now goes into the final day of the rally with a 43.2-second advantage over Martin. Marcus Gronholm remains third on a day which provided little movement in the top ten.

The three Citroen Xsara WRCs ran without mechanical fault throughout the second leg.

Loeb maintained his grip on the event, his only problem came when he stalled the car in a hairpin on the second stage of the day. The Citroen driver's lead was 43.2 seconds at the end of the leg, after Ford's Martin set fastest time on every stage today.

Spain's Carlos Sainz held station in fourth place, easing another 6.2 seconds clear of Gilles Panizzi on the final stage of the day. It was a similar story with Colin McRae, the Scot maintained the pace that he was happy at throughout the leg and remained in seventh place, although he did suffer a problem with the car's handbrake which caused it to stall on the final stage of the day.

"When I heard about Markko's penalty this morning then I decided to not go on the full attack," said Loeb, "It is quite hard, though, trying to drive the car when it is not flat-out. I am having to concentrate very hard now. I dropped about six or seven seconds on stage seven when the car stalled. Today has been a good day, I am happy - but there's still tomorrow."

Sainz added: "Today we have had no problems. Of course I am still trying to push hard and the car is working well. We changed the master cylinder on the brakes last night and we have not had any more trouble from that part of the car."

McRae continued: "If you don't get off to a flying start and get embroiled in the fight straight away then you don't have that extra push. Sebastien is driving a very good rally, he's going very well. It is physically possible for me to drive at this pace in this car - but it seems not on this rally."

At Ford Markko Martin's Focus RS WRC03 refused to start after first service this morning. An electrical problem was traced and fixed, but the Estonian was three minutes late arriving at the control and was forced to take 30 seconds of penalties. Francois Duval's car ran without any reliability troubles today, while Mikko Hirvonen retired his 2002 version early on yesterday with a cam-belt problem.

Martin's starter problem dropped him back to third place, but he was back past Gronholm by the end of the long opening test. Martin was fastest on every stage today, ruing the combination of today's mechanical problem and the leaves which starved his car of air yesterday - without which the fight for the lead would have been considerably closer.

Francois Duval slid into a bank on a gravely corner 17 kilometres from the end of the first stage. Then on the next loop he chose a tyre too soft for the Italian roads. Duval started the day in fifth place, but by the close of play he was one place back having dropped behind Gilles Panizzi.

Martin said: "The problem this morning was really frustrating, I can't believe what happened. The problem was with a part which was located underneath my seat, so they had to take this out. I fixed the seat back in myself on the way out of service. After that everything was okay, but being more than a minute down makes the fight not so interesting anymore. It's good to set fastest time on all of the stages today, but it could have been a closer battle."

Duval commented: "The gravel was bad in the corner on the first stage, the back end of the car snapped away and that was it. After that we didn't have so much confidence in the tyres on the next two. Being too soft, the compound was allowing the tyre to move around too much."

All three Peugeot 206 WRCs have run without mechanical fault through leg two.

Gronholm continued to lead the charge for the Velizy team. The Finn moved into second place overall before the start of the first stage courtesy of Markko Martin's electrical problem and subsequent 30-second road penalty. Third fastest on the day's opener dropped him back behind the Ford driver where he remained until the end of the leg.

Gilles Panizzi moved up one place during the day when he passed Francois Duval for fifth place on the penultimate stage of the day. The triple winner of this event was happy with his car throughout the day and admitted that he was pushing as hard as he dared.

Richard Burns dropped out of the top ten on the seventh stage but was back after SS8. Burns struggled on the day's opening stage, but following more changes to his 206 WRC's set-up, was happier for the next loop of two.

Gronholm said: "I have been concentrating on my driving today to try and make sure that I don't use the left foot on the brake too much, so the brakes aren't fading. The car has been okay today, but still if there was noting I could do about the two ahead today, there's not going to be anything I can do about them tomorrow."

Burns added: "The first stage was really difficult, I wasn't happy in there at all. The second two stages - where I could see more of the road - were better. I was able to get the car on the limit and feel what it was doing there. I left the set-up of the car the same for the second run through the long stage. It was better, but still I wasn't happy with the time."

Over at Subaru Tommi Makinen's car suffered a broken front brake disc on the first stage of the day. The Finn's Impreza was also hit by a minor clutch problem on the second run at the 52-kilometre Teglia stage.

Petter Solberg's Impreza WRC2003 retired after the last stage last night when a calibration problem caused it to run out of fuel.

Makinen slipped two places down the leaderboard through the second day of the rally Richard Burns passed the Finn on the penultimate test of the day, while Peugeot privateer Cedric Robert also eased his way through on the final stage.

"The brake problem first thing was quite bad," said the Finn, "It was early in the stage, I don't know how the disc broke but it caused a bad vibration under braking. It hasn't been such a good day for us today, especially when the oil was getting on to the clutch in the last stage."

At Skoda meanwhile Didier Auriol's Fabia WRC has run without any mechanical trouble. Toni Gardemeister retired on the second stage of the rally, crashing his Fabia after suffering from brake failure.

The suspension modifications Auriol made to his car worked well for the second leg of this event, although he remained in the same position on the leaderboard throughout the leg. Auriol was happier with the way today went, but said he was losing time on the uphill sections due to the Fabia's engine, which is not as powerful as those around the Frenchman.

"Today has been okay," said Auriol, "The handling is nice, we have no problems with this at all, but with the engine the story is the same - we need more power. On the last stage of the day the brakes were starting to fade a little - but that is to be expected after such a long stage."

Of the other entries San Marino driver Mirco Baldacci continues to head the FIA Junior World Rally Championship standings in his Fiat Punto. He picked up a ten-second time penalty on the ninth stage of the day, but that aside it's been a good day for the leader. Britain's Kris Meeke moved into second place in his Opel Corsa, following the demise of Daniel Carlsson who suffered a puncture and then slid his Suzuki Ignis into a wall on the first stage of the day. Cedric Robert continues to lead the non-works cars in his Peugeot 206 WRC.

Rally statistics - Leg 2:

Starters: 43 crews (32 Group A and 11 Group N) started this morning.

Top retirement: Carlsson (S), Ceccato (I), Broccoli (RSM).

Today - Saturday 4 October: Leg 2 started from Sanremo at 07h00 and covered 491.06km, including 149.10km on four stages. The first car arrived back in Sanremo at 19h20.

Tomorrow - Sunday 5 October: Leg 3 starts from Sanremo at 07h00 and covers 333.56km, including 96.12km on four stages. The first car is expected to arrive at the finish in Sanremo at 15h30.

Weather forecast: Changeable but humid.

Stage by stage summary - Leg 2:

SS7 Teglia 1 (52.30kms):
1. Martin (EE) Ford 35m 01.7
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 35m 02.4
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 35m 19.0

Leaders after SS7:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 2h 05m 18.1
2. Martin (EE) Ford 2h 06m 19.8
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 06m 24.3

SS8 Cosio 2 (19.19kms):
1. Martin (EE) Ford 11m 51.3
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 11m 57.3
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 11m 57.6

Leaders after SS8:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 2h 17m 19.0
2. Martin (EE) Ford 2h 18m 11.1
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 18m 21.9

SS9 S. Bartolomeo 2 (25.31kms):
1. Martin (EE) Ford 14m 44.2
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 14m 46.2
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 14m 48.3

Leaders after SS9:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 2h 32m 05.2
2. Martin (EE) Ford 2h 32m 55.3
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 33m 10.2

SS10 Teglia 2 (52.30km):
1. Martin (EE) Ford 34m 48.6
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 34m 55.5
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 34m 58.1

Leaders after SS10 / Leg 2:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 3h 07m 00.7
2. Martin (EE) Ford +43.2
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot +1m 10.5
4. Sainz (E) Ford +1m 42.3
5. Panizzi (F) Peugeot +1m 59.1
6. Duval (B) Ford +2m 23.8
7. McRae (GB) Citroen +3m 07.3
8. Bugalski (F) Citroen +4m 06.6
9. Burns (GB) Peugeot +5m 12.1
10. Robert (F) Peugeot +5m 16.5



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