Day 1am: Martin to the fore

Markko Martin has taken first blood in this weekend's Rallye de France heading the times after the second stage of the first leg in Corsica on Friday. Team-mate Francois Duval is eights seconds off the Estonian's pace to make it an early Ford 1-2 lead while championship favourite Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) is third

Day 1am: Martin to the fore

Martin trailed his team-mate after the first stage, the 32.89km run through Ampaza to Col St Eustache, the young Belgian riding high after topping Thursday's wet shakedown. But the Estonian fought back on the second stage as he attempts to take victory for the second time this year following his win in Mexico back in March.

"The roads are still tricky, even if the sun is shining," Martin said. "I think we've managed to get just the right set-up, which explains our times. I'm driving confidently, and can really let go. On the second stage, though, I think my tyres were possibly too soft, and they had a tendency to move and lose grip."

Martin was 12 seconds quicker than Duval through the 27.78km Aullene to Arbellara stage while their rivals were left well and truly behind. Citroen's Loeb is the Ford duo's nearest challenger, but the Frenchman is 37.5s. Loeb's team boss Guy Frequelin has urged him to take it easy this weekend for he needs only five points from the remaining three rallies to secure his first championship title. Whether Loeb will heed those words remains to be seen.

Defending champion Petter Solberg, though, is seeing his hopes of keeping the championship alive already fade. The Subaru ace is lagging in sixth spot well over a minute off Martin's pace. Even if he was to win this rally, Loeb only has to finish fourth here to take the championship.

"The gap is quite normal," Solberg said. "We are on asphalt, that's all. On the first stage, it was very slippery and I didn't have a good feeling. The tyres I chose were possibly too hard."

Loeb added: "I was on slick tyres, even though the road is around 80 per cent damp. But I think it was definitely the right choice. I was a bit hesitant because the car was understeering a lot."

In Solberg's way are former champions Carlos Sainz (Citroen) in fourth place overall, 38s off the pace, and Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot), 58s adrift.

Cedric Robert's factory Peugeot 307 is in seventh ahead of the Skoda Fabia of Armin Schwarz, who rounds out the top eight.

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