Day 2: Solberg consolidates

Petter Solberg has a commanding 70s lead going into the final leg of the Rally Japan after a dominant performance throughout the second day of the event. The Subaru star won all five of the morning stages and then took another two in the afternoon to ensure that he remained well out of reach of WRC points leader Sebastien Loeb, who is second overall

Day 2: Solberg consolidates

The world champion begun the day with the overall lead but under pressure from the Citroen ace who had closed to within 13s of Solberg. The Norweigen then set to it this morning, stretching his lead back out to 45s with a string of stage wins. Then in the afternoon took a bit more care, but was only once bettered by Loeb, on the 2.8km SS17 Rikubetsu run, and even then only by 0.9s

Solberg's luck this season has been cruel, but it seems that only more misfortune or a mistake can now stop him scoring Suburu's first ever home victory on the world stage.

Loeb simply couldn't match Solberg's pace and may well have decided to take the points. After all, the Frenchman is 29 points clear of nearest rival Markko Martin (and 32 ahead of Solberg) in the championship chase, and this is a grueling event. The roads are narrow, the heat is oppressive from an overbearing sun and the drivers spent more than 15 hours behind the wheel during leg two.

Ford's Martin bounced back from his suspension problems yesterday to rise to third overall. The Estonian Focus driver was helped when Marcus Gronholm's challenge was stunted by a 10s penalty and then getting stuck in third gear during the final stage of the morning. Martin is also not at all happy with his stage notes, which he feels are far too fast for the roads.

Nevertheless he settled down this afternoon and looks capable of fighting for his podium position, 26s clear of Carlos Sainz in the second Citroen. "We didn't have any problems at all this afternoon," said Martin. "Everything was much easier.

"It's very clear to me that our preparation for this rally, in terms of making the pace notes, was not very good. I've never had notes this bad so I must learn from this. We have more new stages tomorrow so we'll have some more surprises, I'm sure. It's always nice to be in a podium place and I hope we can keep that."

Gronholm ended the day fifth overall - which in the scheme of things was disappointing. The Peugeot star moved into second ahead of Loeb during the morning before his gearbox problems. The 307 was fixed during the lunchtime service and off the Finn charged once more. He closed back up on Martin in third, but then a poor choice of tyres rendered him and Peugeot team-mate Harri Rovanpera slowest of the works cars in two of the final three stages.

"We started the day optimistic that we could move up the leaderboard, but then quite suddenly we could only get third gear on SS13," said two-time world champion Gronholm. "I tried to limit the damage as much as possible, but it was clear that we were going to lose some time. In the afternoon we took a gamble on hard tyres, but it didn't pay off. I'm still optimistic that we can score some good points tomorrow."

Behind Gronholm is Ford's Duval. The Belgian is now less than ten seconds behind the Peugeot star having even taken a stage win on SS17. "We found a good rhythm this morning although we still changed quite a lot of pace notes," he said. "Our tyre choice was good and the Focus handled better after making the suspension softer. We kept that good feeling this afternoon.

"The roads felt nicer to drive than yesterday and I'm in a good position now. I would be happy to finish there."

Mikko Hirvonen has never truly recovered from this morning's one-minute time penalty picked up for arriving early at control and remains seventh, more than four minutes off the lead. Rovanpera, in eighth, is another minute back after his gearbox woes from yesterday. Ninth is privateer Antony Warmbold ahead of home hero Toshihiro Arai in tenth.

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