Day 2: Martin in command

Ford's Markko Martin will start the final leg of the Rally Catalunya with a comfortable 39.7 seconds lead over Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm, but he looks set to have to push all the way with his rival showing no signs of taking it easy over Saturday's second leg

Day 2: Martin in command

Martin had gone into the second day locked in a fantastic fight with newly crowned world champion Sebastien Loeb but his life was made much easier on stage eight when the Citroen star was forced out of the rally with a broken sump following a crash on stage seven.

That incident appeared to have left the way open for Martin to cruise to his second consecutive WRC victory - especially after he set the fastest time on stage eight. However, Gronholm had different ideas and promptly upped the pace amid pressure from the chasing cars in a bid to hound down his rival.

Gronholm was fastest on stage nine and, following the cancellation of stage 10 because of spectator problems, he was quickest again on stage 11. Martin fought back on stage 12 before Gronholm again topped the times in stage 13.

At the final stage of the day, Sant Julia 2, which had been made safe following the earlier problems, it was Carlos Sainz's turn to top the times as Martin finally managed to extend his lead with the second best time - 3.5 seconds faster than Gronholm.

Martin has admitted to now taking a more cautious approach to the event - but despite his lead he knows that he cannot back off completely.

"I took it easy so as not to risk damaging the car," he said towards the end of the second day. "There were some really big cuts towards the end of the first stage and I'm not a big fan of those. It's possible to gain time by taking big cuts, but if the car hits something then it can be rally over."

In particular, Martin believes that tyre choice will be absolutely crucial to allowing him to keep his lead intact. "We must keep pushing hard because there are some big fights going on behind us," he added. "I'm really happy with the car, but we have to concentrate on our tyre choice. One bad selection and our lead could well be history."

Gronholm has declared himself happy with his progress during the day - and although he does not think he has the pace to overhaul Martin he is well aware that he could force the Estonian into making a costly mistake.

"Everything has been okay today," Gronholm said. "I've been making small adjustments to the car and they all seem to have been working well. I lost a little confidence on the middle stage this morning, as I felt that the back end of the car was too loose. But it was fine again for the next stage, so I don't think we have a problem. The gap to the leader is quite big, but of course we will keep on pushing. Anything can still happen."

Behind the battling duo, Carlos Sainz appears well on course for a popular podium finish in front of his home crowd. His fastest time overall on the 32.90 km Sant Julia 2 stage has shown that he has not given up completely on finishing second, but he lies more than 11 seconds off Gronholm and 51.1 seconds behind Martin.

Former grand prix driver Stephane Sarrazin continues his impressive switch to rallying by holding fourth position overnight in his privateer 2003 Subaru - ahead of Petter Solberg in the full factory car. The Frenchman has been setting some impressive stage times and holds a 29 seconds advantage over Solberg, although he is two minutes 10.9 seconds off the lead.

Behind fifth placed Solberg, Daniel Sola is sixth overall ahead of Mitsubishi team-mate Gianluigi Galli.

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