Day 2am: Loeb fends off Solberg

Sebastien Loeb has resisted the advances of Petter Solberg to retain the lead of Rally Australia in an intense battle, although the Frenchman's advantage stands at just 2.1s after the first four stages of day two

Day 2am: Loeb fends off Solberg

With Solberg just 3.9s behind Loeb at the start of the day, the Subaru star made a concerted push for the lead on the opening stages, setting the fastest times on SS11 and SS12. But the Citroen ace kept pace with Solberg and was second fastest on both, only dropping a total of 3.9s - ensuring that the pair were exactly level on time at the head of the leaderboard.

Loeb hit back in SS13, going 2.6s faster than Solberg to reclaim sole possession of the lead, although the Norwegian responded with another fastest time on SS14, closing the gap by half a second.

Solberg, however, is confident he can overhaul Loeb to take the lead of the rally. "If I don't take him today, then I will tomorrow," he said. "We'll try today, but if not, there's tomorrow."

With the two young guns tearing off at a frenetic pace, championship leader Richard Burns has adopted his customary tactical approach, solidifying his third position and waiting for one of the leaders to make a mistake. The Briton was third fastest on three of the days four stage but, despite having better road position than yesterday, has slipped to 57.2s off the lead.

"You don't wish anybody ill in these situations," said Burns. "But the guys in front are fighting very hard and I'm fighting hard to keep my position too. Although Petter said this morning that it would make things much more interesting in the championship if I retired."

Tommi Makinen continues to lead the battle for fourth, although the Finn is just 3.6s ahead of Ford star Markko Martin, although both are now over 1m30s off the lead.

Citroen's Carlos Sainz remains sixth, 15s back from Makinen, although he is beginning to come under pressure from charging team-mate Colin McRae. The Scot, finally happy with his brakes after struggles yesterday, has closed to within 4.2s of his team-mate - and chief rival for employment next year.

Harri Rovanpera occupies a lonely eighth position for Peugeot. The Finn is over 30s behind McRae, but over 1m30s ahead of Freddy Loix's Hyundai.

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