Martin gunning for victory

It seems a long time ago since Markko Martin was trading for the World Rally Championship lead with Sebastien Loeb, but on the unpredictable and damp Corsican asphalt roads that provide the course for the Rallye de France, he is getting the better of his Ford team-mate Francois Duval as the pair continue to dominate the event

Martin gunning for victory

The Estonian has not won an event since the Rally Mexico in March and since then, although he has been on the pace, he had some bad luck - and one giant accident in Argentina. But this weekend his Ford Focus is without doubt the fastest car in the rally and his only competition has come from Duval. A crushing display this morning transformed a 15.1s deficit to the Belgian into a 17s lead over him.

Martin bravely chose soft dry-weather tyres this morning despite overnight rain making the road conditions unpredicatable, but the gamble paid off as he disappeared ahead of his wet weather or deep cut intermediate-shod rivals. His dominance was such that even a puncture on SS6 could not stop him setting the fastest time.

"I can't believe how sunny it is here in the service park, because in the mountains we've had every type of weather you can imagine," said Martin at the lunchtime break. "One moment it's nice and the next it is raining. The edges of the road are quite sharp and when you cut corners, it's easy to collect a puncture. The finish is all downhill, and it was very difficult in the braking areas.

"I have a good set-up on my car. It's not perfect - it never is in Corsica - but it's working superbly for me. If we don't make any big mistakes with our tyre selection, then I don't think the other teams can catch us. Francois is my biggest threat. We are opposites here, because he can make good use of hard tyres, while I'm happier on soft rubber."

Duval has by no means given up, and right now with Ford's future in the WRC uncertain, he has been released from his contract and has much to prove to secure a drive in 2005. With Martin on his way to Peugeot, this is a key opportunity for Duval to prove his worth by beating his Ford team-mate.

"We didn't push too hard this morning," said the Belgian, "but that will change this afternoon. The weather is changing a lot. We were told there was heavy rain and hail in the second stage but by the time we got there, it was fine. We made good tyre choices this morning and I am enjoying fighting with Markko."

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Day 2am: Martin retakes lead

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