Day 2: Solberg pulls away

Petter Solberg took control of the Swedish Rally on the final two stages of leg two, pulling out a lead of 12.6s over Marcus Gronholm. The battle for victory had been remarkably close for the first two days, with Gronholm only 0.1s ahead of Solberg at today's lunchtime service, but Petter's form on SS13 and 14 gives him a clear overnight advantage

Day 2: Solberg pulls away

The crucial stage was Vargasen, where Solberg shrugged off worries about his fading Pirelli tyres to outpace Gronholm by 9s. He then went fastest again on the short sprint around Hagfors rallycross track. Gronholm believes Solberg's advantage will be hard to overcome on the remaining six stages.

"It has been a good fight but now Petter has maybe taken too big an advantage for tomorrow," he said. "But we will see, I will try to catch him. I don't understand why we lost so much, specially here on the short sprint."

According to Solberg, the battle for the victory is far from over.

"The lead is not enough," he said. "We've seen lots of times that you can lose 12s on any corner of any stage. We will see tomorrow."

Sebastien Loeb remains third behind Solberg and Gronholm but has been gradually falling away from the lead battle all day. A few minor errors this morning cost him time, as did tyre wear issues this afternoon. Of greater concern might be a potential engine problem on his Citroen Xsara. The car began making unusual noises in today's penultimate stage and was visibly smoking by the time it reached the service.

"It doesn't sound very good," said Loeb. "At the moment we don't know what it is. We have a 45-minute service now to look and to try to solve the problem but for sure it was not a very nice noise.

"We have water coming into the cylinders. We have to try and finish the rally, even if it means turning down the pace of the engine."

With Gigi Galli hitting trouble on SS13, Markko Martin now holds a clear fourth place. The Estonian was much happier with his Peugeot 307 by the end of leg two and felt he might have had a chance to get amongst the podium battle but for differential problems just before lunchtime.

Galli ultimately fell from fourth to eighth place, being passed by the closely matched trio of Toni Gardemeister, Henning Solberg and Harri Rovanpera after spinning twice on Hagfors as he grappled with his Mitsubishi's transmission. He was unsure whether the problems with the Lancer's drivetrain had been caused by clipping an obstacle or a technical glitch.

The Ford team benefited from Galli's dramas, and has made a strong comeback after struggling to even get a car in the top ten early on leg one. Gardemeister is still not totally satisfied with his car and remains only a few seconds ahead of Solberg, who is focused on finishing the rally and collecting manufacturers' points for his temporary employers.

Star of the Hagfors superspecial was Bozian Peugeot 307 privateer Daniel Carlsson. A combination of his sensational second fastest stage time (behind Solberg) on Hagfors and a spin for Subaru's Chris Atkinson took Carlsson past the Australian into ninth. Carlsson has been fast all weekend, running ahead of Gronholm in third place for the first two stages yesterday before hitting a rock and deranging his front suspension. The Swede has produced a number of very rapid times during his recovery drive and now has a chance of making it back into the points.

Toshi Arai is dominating the Production WRC, with all his realistic rivals having hit trouble on leg two. Mark Higgins crashed out this morning, and current second-place man Aki Teiskonen is almost two minutes behind Arai after severe brake problems on SS12.

Forecasts for the rally's final leg vary, but some suggest that heavy overnight snowfall could be on the cards. That would be bad news for Citroen's Francois Duval, who fell from fourth to 17th after stopping to change a punctured tyre on SS10. Mattias Ekstrom's power steering failure has elevated Duval into the crucial 15th position, meaning he will run first on the road tomorrow morning and faces the prospect of sweeping the soft snow out of the way for those behind.

Petter Solberg (Subaru Impreza) 2h14m27.9s
Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot 307) 2h14m40.5s
Sebastien Loeb (Citroen Xsara) 2h15m02.2s
Markko Martin (Peugeot 307) 2h16m33.7s
Toni Gardemeister (Ford Focus) 2h17m46.5s
Henning Solberg (Ford Focus) 2h17m49.7s
Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi Lancer) 2h17m50.6s
Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi Lancer) 2h18m03.5s
Daniel Carlsson (Peugeot 307) 2h18m16.8s
Chris Atkinson (Subaru Impreza) 2h18m19.7s

Janne Tuohino (Skoda Fabia) 2h18m27.9s
Roman Kresta (Ford Focus) 2h18m43.2s
Jani Paasonen (Skoda Fabia) 2h18m57.7s
Anthony Warmbold (Ford Focus) 2h20m16.4s
Francois Duval (Citroen Xsara) 2h20m42.4s
Mattias Ekstrom (Skoda Fabia) 2h21m22.1s
Stephane Sarrazin (Subaru Impreza) 2h21m24.2s

SS13: Solberg leads again

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