Day 2: Loeb edges clear of Solberg

Sebastien Loeb and Petter Solberg engaged in an all-out war on the second day of Rally Australia, setting the first and second fastest time on all eight of the day's stages as they battled for the lead of the rally. With just two runs over the short Perth Superspecial left to run today (Saturday), Loeb has edged out a 5.4s lead over his Norwegian rival

Day 2: Loeb edges clear of Solberg

Solberg drew first blood on the afternoon's stages, taking 1.2s out of Loeb's lead on SS15, but the Frenchman redressed the balance by taking SS16, increasing his lead to 2.7s - exactly what it had been before the day started.

The Citroen ace then ramped up the pressure on Solberg with wins on SS17 and SS18 to build the gap to over five seconds. Although this might not sound substantial, it represents the biggest lead that Loeb has enjoyed over Solberg since Marcus Gonholm's crash promoted him to first.

"It's not a big lead, but it's a little bit more than this morning," said Loeb. "I've made no mistakes, and we have to continue that tomorrow. Sometimes it's going a little too fast, but for sure it's a pleasure in the car. We both can win, so we must push."

Solberg is confident of a strong push on the final day. He said: "[The lead's] just 1.5sec bigger than it was this morning. It shouldn't be any problem. I've got a good feeling. Tomorrow there are long stages and it's the most important day of the rally. I'm happy with second - I'm in a hunting position."

The fight between the leading duo has left all the other runners standing. Richard Burns continues to occupy third, but he has dropped back further and is now 1m24.6s off the lead. However, with Gronholm out of the event, Burns' consistent approach looks set to pay dividends once again.

"It may look from outside like I'm playing safe," said Burns. "I'm trying just as hard as those guys, Petter and Sebastien. The thing is to get as many points as possible. We've got to keep on this track to the end of the year."

The fight for fourth has proven almost as entertaining as the battle for the lead. Markko Martin set the third fastest time on three of the day's four stages to seize the position from Tommi Makinen.

With his brake troubles now well and truly sorted, Colin McRae put in a charge, and passed both Citroen team-mate Carlos Sainz and Makinen on the afternoon's stage to claim fifth. However, he is far from comfortable in the position, as the four-time world champion is only 1.4s behind, with Sainz a further 5.1s back.

Harri Rovanpera continues to run eighth, with Freddy Loix and Francois Duval rounding out the top ten.

The final two stages of the day take place on the short Perth Superspecial stage.

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