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Loeb maintains stage win run.

Sebastien Loeb strengthened his stranglehold on the Rally RACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada this morning, increasing his overnight advantage from 15.8 seconds to 23.7 seconds.

Loeb, who won all the stages on day 1, was again dominant and he completed the opening test - the 38.27 kilometre-run through El Priorat, the longest of the event, in 21 minutes 30.9 seconds, 1.4 seconds up on Francois Duval, who was 'best of the rest'.

The Frenchman then set the pace again in SS8 and SS9, 2.6 seconds up on his team-mate Dani Sordo in Les Garrigues and 2.9 seconds in front of the Spaniard in La Llena.

"Our morning went perfectly. I was careful with my tyres during the early part of the long stage, and then upped my pace towards the end. That meant they were still strong on the next two tests," said the four-time world champion.

"I am very pleased with the balance and set-up of my car. Today's first three stages have enabled us to increase our lead slightly, so that's very positive. It's still too early to be thinking in terms of lifting. There is still much too far to go for that. We'll have a clearer picture this evening."

Sordo meanwhile remains second and the gap between him and BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Francois Duval is more or less the same as it was prior to the loop, the two still split by around 25 seconds.

"I was at maximum attack this morning and I will stay at that pace to try to catch Dani," Duval vowed. "The roads are twistier today and I like that, so I think that's why my times are closer to Dani than they were yesterday. The car still feels good, although there is small understeer in long corners. There was a lot of dirt on the road in the final stage which made it slippery."

Mikko Hirvonen completes the top four, but the Finn has lost ground to Duval and saw the margin go up from 2.8 seconds to 11.2 seconds going into service D at PortAventura.

"We changed the rear differential in service this morning which brought an improvement on the high-speed sections, but it also made the car more difficult to drive so there is still work to do. I have more pace and my times are closer to Loeb and Sordo, but I don't have the killer feeling that I need to challenge because I'm not 100 per cent confident," he explained.



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