Day 2am: Loeb takes over

Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has taken a comprehensive lead in this weekend's Telstra Rally Australia following the retirement of former leader Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) on the first stage of the second leg today (Saturday). The Finn crashed out to hand Loeb a lead of over one minute as the teams headed into the first service break of the day

Day 2am: Loeb takes over

It had all looked so promising for the Flying Finn after the first leg of the rally on Friday with the collection of four stage wins and an overnight lead of 21.4s over Citroen's Loeb. Unfortunately for him, and the Australian spectators, he crashed out on the first stage of the day - SS10 - to gift an all but certain victory to Loeb.

"Everything was going okay until a left-hand corner about three kilometres into the stage," Gronholm said. "We came into it with normal speed, but the ruts were much deeper than they had been yesterday and the car started to slide on the sump guard. This put us into a spin and we hit the front and back of the car against a tree."

With just four works drivers left in the contest following the retirement of Ford's Markko Martin and Subaru's Petter Solberg on Friday, and Carlos Sainz's DNS following his accident during Wednesday's recce, spectators have been denied the chance of a season-ending spectacle.

To add to their woe, the four drivers left in the rally proper - Loeb, Peugeot's Harri Rovanpera (second overall), Ford's Francois Duval (third) and Peugeot's Mikko Hirvonen (fourth) - are split by such insurmountable time differences that unless the gremlins strike or the drivers' concentration lapses, then this is certainly the finishing order come Sunday evening for none of the drivers left, who each represent their team's only hope, have been given any incentive to push their machines to the limit.

Thank goodness then for the SupeRally restart system that has allowed Subaru's Solberg to return to the event. The Norwegian was unstoppable as he notched up three stage wins on the trot leaving the snoozing quartet in his wake.

Fortunately Loeb seemed to answer the spectators' plea and put on a great display to take victory on the final stage of the morning - SS14. The Frenchman may not need this victory, having already secured the championship, but he would quite like it nonetheless for it would be a record-equalling sixth win of the season to match Didier Auriol's efforts in 1992.

Ford's Antony Warmbold has maintained his fifth position overall ahead of the fighting Production WRC duo of Alister McRae (sixth) and Niall McShea (seventh). Subaru's Toshihiro Arai rounds out the top eight.

It is not yet known if Peugeot's Gronholm will take advantage of the SupeRally system to make a comeback on the afternoon stages. Solberg and the spectators are certain to go for the idea, if only to end this season-ending rally on a high with some exciting battles between the two adversaries.

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