Day 2am: Duval to the fore

Ford young gun Francois Duval moved into the lead on the second morning of the Tour de Corse today (Saturday), as both Sebastien Loeb and Markko Martin spun away their chances of victory in wet conditions on a chaotic SS8

Day 2am: Duval to the fore

After his spin yesterday, Martin continued his comeback on the first stage of the day, SS7, setting the fastest time and moving up to second overall, within 10s of rally leader Loeb. But just as the event appeared to be distilling into a fight between the two, the weather decided to play a major role in events.

SS8 started out damp, and became progressively wetter as the cars ran through it. Most of the drivers - including Loeb and Martin - began on dry tyres, and struggled for grip as conditions worsened.

In the wet, both front-runners faltered. Loeb spun, got stuck, and lost over 10 minutes recovering, while Martin had to change his wheel on stage after a crash, dropping over five minutes and all but ending his championship hopes.

This left the way clear for Duval to assume the lead. The Belgian was only 11th fastest on SS8 after stalling his car at the start line, but still outpaced his nearest rival, Citroen's Carlos Sainz. Duval rebounded with the third fastest time on SS9, and leads the Spaniard by 11.6s at the lunch break.

"Sadly its disappointing in terms of the championship, I think it had really slipped away from Markko," said Ford team boss Malcolm Wilson. "But I am delighted Francois is in the lead. If it all goes to plan, let's hope we stay in that position. But when conditions are like this, anything can happen and mistakes are costly."

One of the biggest beneficiaries from the wet conditions was Petter Solberg. After going second fastest on SS7, Subaru star Solberg benefited from Pirelli's excellent tyre performance in the wet to make up time on most of his rivals on SS8 and SS9, and has moved up from eighth into a tie for third overall with Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm.

Another to gain from the rain was Gilles Panizzi, whose wise choice of intermediate tyres allowed him to go quickest on SS9, helping him to move from 11th to fifth in just three stages.

Colin McRae ran consistently to move up to sixth position, one spot ahead of Philippe Bugalski's private Citroen. Richard Burns looked set to benefit from the rain after opting for intermediate tyres, but a spin on SS9 dropped him down to eighth overall.

One other driver who evidently enjoyed the rain was Mikko Hirvonen, running in a year-old Focus. The Ford youngster absolutely flew on SS8, outpacing everyone else on the stage by 8.5s. He put in another strong time on SS9 to move up to 10th overall.

Francois Duval Ford Focus RS WRC03
Carlos Sainz Citroen Xsara +11.6s
Marcus Gronholm Peugeot 206 WRC +26.4s
Petter Solberg Subaru Impreza WRC +26.4s
Gilles Panizzi Peugeot 206 WRC +44.9s
Colin McRae Citroen Xsara +49.8s

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