McRae extends his lead despite mishap

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The Independent Online

Colin McRae completed the first day of the Acropolis Rally in Athens, the fourth round of the world championship, with a healthy lead yesterday. Despite twisting his Subaru's rear suspension against a lump of concrete on the seventh stage, the world champion still increased his advantage over his main rival Tommi Makinen to 54 seconds.

A stage earlier, spectators partly blocked the road with rocks at a junction, causing Spain's Carlos Sainz, running first, and McRae to spin.

McRae remained cautious with two-thirds of this notoriously destructive rally left. "Here you don't even need to be unlucky. There's so much to hit," he warned.

Makinen, the world championship leader from Finland, said: "We have been going too slowly through the rough stages." He hopes that suspension changes to his Mitsubishi will enable him to turn the tables on McRae.

Behind Sainz's Ford, in third place an all-Belgian battle has developed between Freddie Loix, who is getting his first big world championship chance in a four-wheel drive Toyota, and Bruno Thiry, who was recalled to Ford for the first time this year. They are split by just seven seconds.

The Italian Pierro Liatti dropped 90 seconds when he got a puncture in his Subaru, while Patrick Bernardini, the Monte Carlo rally winner, broke his Ford's rear suspension twice.

Subaru's Swede Kenneth Eriksson, who was fourth after five stages, lost seven minutes when his steering broke. The three-day, 1,130km event finishes tomorrow afternoon.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 11