Championship leader Sebastien Loeb has moved into the lead of the Rally Portugal following the first three stages of leg two, the Frenchman setting a trio of fastest times to go 6.9 seconds ahead.

Loeb began the day in 18 seconds behind in third place, but didn't take long to make his move on leader Mikko Hirvonen, the Citroen driver using his better position on the road to win all three of the morning stages.

Although Hirvonen did well not to drop too much time as he swept the road clear for those behind, Loeb's performance on SS9, where he took 15 seconds off his rival, proved to be the crucial moment.

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Nonetheless, the Finn remains in contention with Loeb and will benefit from this afternoon's stages being a re-run of those from the morning. However, there is widespread speculation that some tactics could come into play by the end of the day, with many expecting Sunday's four stages to be the toughest of the rally.

Having begun the day as a three-way battle for the lead, a spin for Dani Sordo on SS10 saw him lose 22 seconds and slip more than half a minute off his team-mate.

However, he retains a large margin over Petter Solberg, who has moved up to fourth position following Marcus Gronholm's demise at the start of the day.

The Finn was looking to use his good road position to launch a challenge for the podium, but ran off the road and rolled a short distance into the Santa Clara stage. Although he got going again, the impact had damaged the front of his Subaru Impreza and soaring engine temperatures eventually forced him to stop.

Although Solberg complained that he lost several seconds getting through the dust being kicked up by the stricken Gronholm, he is comfortably positioned in fourth after his closest rival at the start of the day, Sebastien Ogier, was also forced to retire.

The Frenchman had made good ground on the former champion towards the end of day one, but he was forced to stop on the same stage as Gronholm with a bent steering arm and join the growing retirements' list.

It means Matthew Wilson is in position for a second consecutive top five finish, the British driver setting consistent stage times and shaking off the advances of Evgeny Novikov, who dropped more than a minute on SS9 to slip to eighth by midday.

Arguably the biggest winner from the problems ahead was Henning Solberg, who leaps up from ninth to sixth in just three stages, the Norwegian choosing consistency over risks as he steadily forges his way back into contention following yesterday's brake problems.

Meanwhile, a rare trouble-free morning for Mads Ostberg has also seen him rise through the ranks, the Subaru driver passing Novikov on SS10 to move from tenth to seventh. Outside the points, Conrad Rautenbach and Federico Villagra are poised to move up the order in ninth and tenth, but are more than a minute behind Novikov.

In the Production WRC class, Patrik Flodin has moved into the lead, passing day one leader Armindo Araujo and eking his advantage out to 11 seconds by the end of the morning. Norway's Eyvind Brynildsen is third, although he is being caught by a charging Martin Prokop, who has been the quickest driver throughout the morning.

The Junior WRC class, meanwhile, continues to dwindle, with Michel Kosciuszko now leading by almost four minutes as he enjoys a mistake-free run in his Suzuki. Kevin Abbring is second, with Luca Griotti third - eight minutes off the lead.