Day 1am: Martin seizes early advantage

Markko Martin claimed a narrow lead on the first morning of the Tour de Corse, as he resumed his intense battle for asphalt supremacy with Sebastien Loeb that raged throughout the last event in Sanremo

Day 1am: Martin seizes early advantage

Already, the fight on the Corsican roads is looking far more competitive than the last round of the championship, with different drivers setting the fastest time on each of the morning's three stages and the top eight drivers covered by just 20.8s.

Carlos Sainz took first blood in his Citroen Xsara, outpacing Richard Burns on SS1 by just 0.9s. On SS2 it was the turn of Loeb to go fastest in his Xsara, although Markko Martin was second quickest through the stage in his Ford Focus to claim the overall lead.

Martin then increased his advantage by setting the fastest time on SS3, the day's longest stage, to lead Loeb by 3.4s after the first loop of stages. Sainz was fourth fastest on SS2 and third on SS3 to sit a solid third overall, 5.1s back from Martin.

"We're in the position to be in," said Martin, "but I've not had a particularly good feeling this morning. The car is perfect, it's just me, although the third stage felt better than the first two."

Following his impressive Sanremo showing (until he crashed, at any rate) Marcus Gronholm continues to run well on asphalt. The reigning champion was among the fastest five runners on all three stages and lies fourth, just 7.0s off the overall lead.

Championship leader Richard Burns had a solid morning, as he looks to put his disappointing Sanremo run behind him. The Briton was second fastest on SS1 and fourth on SS3, and is just 2.2s back from his Peugeot team-mate Gronholm. By contrast, the French team's acknowledged asphalt ace, Gilles Panizzi, struggled on all three stages, and lies down in ninth overall.

Francois Duval lies sixth for Ford, ahead of Subaru's Petter Solberg, who is likely relieved just to be in the rally after his shakedown crash yesterday.

"The car feels good," said Solberg. "I've got no mechanical worries at all. I just want to say a very big thank you to all the guys who worked so hard to get me here."

Colin McRae currently occupies the last of the points scoring positions in eighth, and enjoys a 15.9s cushion to Panizzi.

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