Day 2: Solberg storms on

Petter Solberg is well on course to grab victory in the Supermag Rally Italia Sardinia after ending the second leg on Saturday more than 70 seconds clear of world championship leader Sebastien Loeb

Day 2: Solberg storms on

The Subaru ace was fastest on six of the day's seven stages, beaten only by a recovering Marcus Gronholm on the 28.62km 11th stages at Sas Molas 2, to take a comfortable one minute 11.5 seconds advantage into the final day on Sunday.

Solberg was well aware, however, that despite being dominant throughout the rally, it would hardly do his world championship ambitions much good because unless Loeb loses position the gap between the two drivers in the title table will only decrease by two points.

"For me it's going really well, no problem at all," said Solberg. "The only problem is that Sebastien is doing really well too and is right up with me. There's not a lot more I can do than to try and win. The stages are very slippery, but are in a good condition."

Behind Solberg and Loeb, third placed Carlos Sainz in the Citroen was more than one minute further adrift but he is in a far from comfortable position with Ford's Markko Martin breathing down his neck. The two drivers have been fighting their own battle for the entire day and are separated by less then three seconds.

The day had got off to the perfect start for Solberg as he outpaced overnight second placed man Gronholm by 5.2 seconds on the 28.62km Sas Molas stage, with Loeb taking the third quickest time. Solberg maintained his speed through the short 9.06km Le Sughere stage to once again outpace Gronholm, although this time by just two seconds.

As Solberg set the quickest time overall on the 34.20km Tandalo stage, it all went wrong for Gronholm as he was slowed by an engine problem - completing the stage more than 23 minutes slower than Solberg to put himself out of contention.

Gronholm hit back later in the day with the fastest time on stage 11, but it was too late. Speaking about his earlier dramas, Gronholm said: "After about five kilometers of stage nine, the turbo on my car failed completely. I tried to keep going, but it was obviously very slow and we lost a lot of time. It's a real pity, as we wanted to try and fight to win. Now it is all over."

Stage nine proved to be an unlucky one for Gronholm's team-mate Harri Rovanpera too, as he was eliminated from seventh place on that stage by a gearbox problem that proved impossible for the Finn to drive around.

Rovanpera said: "First we lost first, then second, then third gear and finally we were jammed in first. There was no way for us to continue so we retired straight away. I am very disappointed."

Solberg went on to claim the quickest times on La Sughere 1 and Tandalo 1 as Loeb appeared to have little in reserve to close down the gap. The Frenchman is unlikely to take many risks to do that on Sunday, however, well aware that second place will be enough to keep him in a very comfortable position in the championship standings.

Behind the close fight between Sainz and Martin, Italy's Andrea Navarra ended the day fifth, ahead of Francois Duval and Henning Solberg.

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