Ford duo Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala continue to run first and second in the Rally Japan, but Sebastien Loeb is heading for the title in third place, despite losing time after an errant set-up change.
Loeb (Citroen) is now nearly a minute behind Hirvonen, having lost ground in the long Kamuycep stage when his decision to switch to harder settings failed to pay off.
"I was really not confident - the car was doing what it wanted and I couldn't drive it," said Loeb. "I changed the settings, put the suspension a lot harder, because the first long stage of the loop was very rough and it was jumping around everywhere. So I tried to make it harder, but I lost a lot of grip with that."
The time loss might have been more costly but for the series of dramas that hit the rest of the WRC field this afternoon.
Petter Solberg had been closing on Loeb only to wrench the right rear wheel from his Subaru in the Kina stage, ending his day.
"I went in a ditch and then 'boom', it ripped off the rear wheel and that was it," said the Norwegian. "We are trying, we are not here to play around, and I just hit the hole for just one tenth. I thought it was just bottoming, but it ripped the whole thing off.
"I'm really sorry to all the fans, the team and the mechanics. I saw a small chance with Loeb having a small problem on the stage before. A small mistake, but that was it."
However he remained upbeat, having taken a stage win earlier in the leg and shown promising pace all day.
"We have shown a lot of good things today and I'm very pleased with that," Solberg said. "It's very encouraging for the whole team. We know which areas to work on, and it's coming."
Kina was nearly a double disaster for Subaru, as Chris Atkinson hit the same hole, but he was able to continue and pick up Solberg's fourth place.
"There was this huge hole on the outside of the corner, I don't know if he dug it out," said Atkinson. "We went into it, spun 360 degrees in the air, and landed back on the road. We were lucky, it was just so rough."
It was a bad afternoon for both Solberg brothers, for Munchi's Ford driver Henning Solberg retired from sixth place after suspension problems in SS17. He had picked up that position in the previous stage, when Suzuki's Per-Gunnar Andersson was delayed by a puncture.
Those incidents mean that Matthew Wilson (Stobart Ford) and Toni Gardemeister's battle is now for fifth place, with just seven seconds between them going into day three. Gardemeister had a boost at the end of the day, when he took Suzuki's maiden WRC stage win in the first run through the Sapporo Dome superspecial.
The unfortunate Andersson - whose pace had left teammate Gardemeister baffled this weekend - was able to continue in seventh, while the dramas ahead have moved Munchi's Ford's Federico Villagra into the points.
The works Ford team have remained immune from the carnage, with their only scare a puncture for Latvala in the very short Imeru stage, which forced the Finn to tread carefully through the rest of the loop as he was only carrying one spare tyre, but was otherwise harmless.
However while Ford seem set for a dominant one-two victory, it will not be enough to keep the title fight alive all the time that Loeb continues to hold the crucial third place.
Leading positions after day two:
Pos Driver Car Time 1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 2h21:31.8 2. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 15.5 3. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 53.5 4. Chris Atkinson Subaru + 2:26.0 5. Matthew Wilson Ford + 4:31.6 6. Toni Gardemeister Suzuki + 4:38.5 7. Per-Gunnar Andersson Suzuki + 5:11.8 8. Federico Villagra Ford + 9:59.6 9. Jari Ketomaa Subaru + 11:46.4 10. Evgeny Novikov Mitsubishi + 12:29.5
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