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Loeb extends lead despite error

Sebastien Loeb, Citroen, Rally Ireland 2009Sebastien Loeb remains on course for Rally Ireland victory, surviving a quick trip off the road to take a 69-second lead into the final day.

The world champion lost 13.7 seconds when he was surprised by standing water and ran onto the grass in Sloughan Glen 2, leaving him with a wheel vibration for the rest of the stage.

But Loeb quickly shrugged the incident off and won the next two stages to re-establish his commanding advantage over his Citroen teammate Dani Sordo and Ford's Mikko Hirvonen.

Loeb's error in SS12 allowed Hirvonen to take his first stage win of the weekend, but the Finn admitted that there was now little point in him pushing with Sordo 80 seconds in front and the rest of the pack three and a half minutes behind.

"It's a shame we had this power steering problem today, I was really looking forward to a fight with Dani, and maybe getting closer and then continuing the fight tomorrow," said Hirvonen. "But now it's really important to get these points so I'll have to try to finish."

The battle for fourth place closed considerably this afternoon, as Chris Atkinson's second fastest time in Ballinamallard and third fastest in Tempo took the Citroen Junior driver to within 4.7 seconds of Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg.

"After yesterday when we gave away a lot of time and did a lot of learning, the second day has become a lot better - top three times nearly every stage," said Atkinson.

"You can imagine that in the most difficult conditions I've ever raced in, and in a new car that's completely different to the old one, it took me a day and a night to think about it. I had a sleep and came back a lot faster."

Solberg had previously said that he would settle for a top five result given his usual discomfort on asphalt, but now feels comfortable enough to try and fend off Atkinson.

"I'm driving as though I have my heart in my neck," said the Norwegian. "I am very, very happy and I was really pushing on the long stage and Mikko was only just in front of me. I'm pushing as much as I can in this car."

Atkinson's teammate Sebastien Ogier has now taken sixth place from Matthew Wilson (Stobart Ford), but was frustrated that his earlier crash has left him too far behind to challenge for a top five finish unless others drop out.

"Without the mistake this morning it would be more interesting for us," said Ogier. "Okay, we are sixth and for my second rally with the car it's not so bad."

Ford's Khalid Al Qassimi is now on course for the final point after privateer Gareth Machale tumbled to 12th thanks to turbo problems.

In the Junior class, Aaron Burkart reclaimed first place from Hans Weijs during the afternoon, and the Dutchman then had a heavy crash in SS14 while giving chase.

Leading positions after day two:

Pos  Driver             Car      Time
 1.  Sebastien Loeb     Citroen  2h20:02.8
 2.  Dani Sordo         Citroen  +  1:09.1
 3.  Mikko Hirvonen     Ford     +  2:30.9
 4.  Henning Solberg    Ford     +  5:57.4
 5.  Chris Atkinson     Citroen  +  6:02.1
 6.  Sebastien Ogier    Citroen  +  9:13.4
 7.  Matthew Wilson     Ford     +  9:51.3
 8.  Khalid Al Qassimi  Ford     + 11:50.0
 9.  Eamonn Boland      Subaru   + 12:40.4
10.  Aaron Machale      Ford     + 13:40.4

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