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WRC NEWS 

Loeb pulls away from Gronholm

Sebastien Loeb, Citroen, Rallye de FranceSebastien Loeb has extended his lead over Marcus Gronholm to 12.6 seconds as the Tour de Corse reached its halfway point.

The title rivals had begun leg two 4.8 seconds apart, and both went flat-out through the first Saturday loop as Loeb strove to break Gronholm's challenge and the Finn did his utmost to keep the renowned asphalt expert within sight.

"It's very, very difficult," said Gronholm. "I am not too far away but just losing a little bit of time. But I'll keep the pressure on him. He cannot go to sleep behind the wheel."

Loeb was relieved to stretch his advantage having suffered severe tyre wear in SS8, a problem that many others encountered at the same point.

"It's very difficult for the tyres," said Loeb at the end of the stage. "We really had to drive very carefully from halfway through the stage to the end because the tyre was too hot and it was impossible to keep the car straight."

Dani Sordo has continued to lose touch with the leaders in third place in the second Citroen, while Francois Duval is now more secure in fourth. Third-fastest time in SS7 allowed the OMV Citroen driver to break away from the chasing Subarus and Jari-Matti Latvala.

Petter Solberg extended his advantage over Latvala in SS7, before struggling badly with understeer and a lack of front end grip in the following stage - which allowed the Stobart Ford back in front. Although Solberg clawed some time back in SS9, he remained 1.3 seconds adrift at the end of the morning.

"The car is not as good as yesterday," Solberg said. "We don't have the proper feeling. We have to do something with the set-up I think."

His teammate Chris Atkinson in still in touch with Latvala and Solberg's battle. Third-fastest time in SS9 kept Atkinson within 17.7 seconds of Solberg.

The other works Subaru remains in the final points-scoring positions as Xevi Pons holds eighth, ahead of Jan Kopecky's Skoda.

Having struggled on day one - when he lost three minutes to teammate Duval - Manfred Stohl began leg two in better form by overhauling Henning Solberg and Andreas Mikkelsen to move up to 10th in the Carbuccia-Scalella stage.

But the Austrian then faded again in SS8, where he was another of the many drivers troubled by extreme tyre wear, and handed the place back to Solberg, who pulled further away in the following stage.

Impressive debutant Alessandro Bettega, Suzuki SX4 driver Nicolas Bernardi and Ford number two Mikko Hirvonen all rejoined under superally rules this morning following their Friday retirements, but having resumed in 49th, 62nd and 64th places respectively they are likely to spend the remainder of the event amongst the Junior runners and local entrants.

Leading positions after SS9:

Pos  Driver     Car      Time
 1.  Loeb       Citroen  1h40:11.7
 2.  Gronholm   Ford      +   12.6
 3.  Sordo      Citroen   +   48.0
 4.  Duval      Citroen   + 1:27.1
 5.  Latvala    Ford      + 1:54.0
 6.  P Solberg  Subaru    + 1:55.3
 7.  Atkinson   Subaru    + 2:13.0
 8.  Pons       Subaru    + 3:13.1
 9.  Kopecky    Skoda     + 4:24.7
10.  H Solberg  Ford      + 5:28.1

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