Rally GBpm: Loeb holds on

Subaru's Petter Solberg has set the stage for a thrilling finale on the third leg of the Wales Rally GB tomorrow (Sunday) after closing the gap to leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) to just 7.3s. With four stages left to run the swords are out as both attempt to clinch the top honours

Rally GBpm: Loeb holds on

It was a case of a different day, but the same conditions, as drivers negotiated their way around the muddy and soggy stages of Wales. The second stage of the day, the Epynt 1, was the chief headache for all drivers, except Ford's Francois Duval, who took the stage win and repeated the feat again three stages later when drivers had to run through it for a second time.

One driver called the stage 'treacherous', another 'very difficult', but it was Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm who will detest it the most having been the test that brought his hopes of winning the event to an end after he hit a pole on the stage. The Finn damaged his steering, which he fixed before nursing his car to the end of the stage. Complaining of severe handling problems, he retired shortly after bringing his hopes of taking the championship this year to an abrupt end.

With Gronholm out the way it was down to Solberg to rein in rally leader Loeb. Once again it was predicted that Loeb would take it relatively easy today enjoying as he does a 30-point lead in the championship standings. Once again, though, he proved us wrong by taking the a stage win on the first and third tests to eke out a 17.2s lead over Solberg.

It wasn't until the fourth stage of the day, the second run through Crychan, that Solberg found his form, and then again on SS13 and SS14 - Halfway 2 and Margam 1. Before the final stage of the day, the Cardiff Super Special 2, Solberg had reduced Loeb's lead to 6.8s. The Frenchman got the better of Solberg on this final stage, though, to put another half a second between him and the Norwegian.

Solberg admits that he's pushing as hard as he can to try and catch Loeb even going off at one point.

"I nearly went into a ditch - I'm taking some risks, and I think it's going to be a hell of a fight." Solberg said. "We struggled a little more than I expected but Sebastien has driven very well and their tyres seem to be doing a good job. I'm not surprised by his pace. He is still pushing hard and I'm sure I'd do the same in his position."

Gronholm's retirement elevated Ford's Markko Martin up to third, but the Estonian was in no-man's land for much of the day sitting a over minute behind the leaders with fourth-placed Carlos Sainz (Citroen) over 40s further back.

But on SS13, the second run through Halfway, Martin experienced a loss of power on his engine. It was eventually traced and he came back to form, but the resultant loss of time means Martin now has a rejuvenated Sainz chasing him just 18s behind.

Ford's Duval has enjoyed another strong day taking three stage wins, but his form hasn't shifted him from fifth position overall, the Belgian is over a minute off Sainz and with four stages to run is likely to stay where he is unless any of the four ahead hit trouble on Sunday.

While Loeb and Solberg will battle it out on the final day, so too will Peugeot's Harri Rovapera and Subaru's Mikko Hirvonen in sixth and seventh places respectively. Just 2s separate the two leaving an exciting prospect for Sunday.

British privateer Mark Higgins rounds out the top eight after some impressive driving in the Ford Focus WRC.

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Rally GB: Solberg fights back
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