BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala remains in the lead on the Repco Rally Australia - but at the mid-day service, five drivers are still in the frame to win what is the tenth round in the 2009 World Rally Championship.

Over the morning's four competitive stages, SS16-SS19, the trailing pack of Sebastien Loeb, Mikko Hirvonen, Sebastien Ogier and Dani Sordo moved 7.1 seconds closer to P1 and now just 16.5 seconds separates first to fifth.

Suffering from his position as first on the road today, the best Latvala could manage was stage times between third and fifth, but it was still good enough to keep him top.

"It has been harder being first on the road than I thought it would be," Latvala stated. "The first stage was wet but the others were mostly dry and I couldn't find a rhythm. I lost time in the slow corners because I slid wide too often.

"This afternoon most of the stages are repeats so there should be a clean line and I will have the advantage of seeing the braking points. We'll make the car set-up harder in service to match the conditions."

Meanwhile the biggest mover was Loeb and with two stage wins this morning he moved from fifth to second, closing the gap to Latvala from 24.4 seconds down to just 3.5 seconds - almost half a second per kilometre.

"I had to really try hard. It was a very fast, very beautiful stage. I just keep pushing," said Loeb. "I really enjoyed that one [SS16], very muddy and fast! I am just happy to take time from Latvala."

Hirvonen claimed the win on the day's first stage, Dayco 1, jumping him up to third place in the process and closing the gap to team-mate Latvala from 23.6 to 7.9 seconds: "We went wide at one point and I hit a mailbox. It is very, very slippery. This rally is going to be a big fight!" he predicted.

Ogier has suffered most from the slippery conditions. Second on the road today, his Citroen lost 15 seconds to the leader on Dayco 1, the day's longest stage at 20.31km but it wasn't all down to the conditions.

"Something went wrong with the brakes and I came off the road," Ogier explained. "I got straight back on and kept going. The rally is still long, a lot of things can still happen."

Sordo closed the gap to Latvala by 6.3 seconds but still slipped one position to fifth. At 16.5 seconds off the lead, he rounds out the top five drivers who are all within sight of the rally win.

With his car caked in mud from the morning's stages, Sordo said; "Most of the corners are very slippery, not easy! Very tricky stages. The conditions were quite solid yesterday but today there is mud all over the road."

Further down the order Henning Solberg remains sixth, but he is now only 9.6 seconds up on his Stobart Ford team-mate, Matthew Wilson, after an off in SS17.

"We aquaplaned coming into a fast corner and slid off into a ditch; it was at a fast speed and it took me completely by surprise," Henning recalled. "A post damaged the windscreen and smashed it so we had to push it out to be able to see. This is my third time driving with no windscreen so at least I have the experience for this situation. The car isn't badly damaged so we should be fine for the rest of the day."

Of the rest Munchi's Ford man Federico Villagra is a further 55 seconds back in eighth, while Hayden Paddon's Mitsubishi is ninth ahead of the first Production WRC driver, Martin Prokop in tenth.

P-WRC early leader Prokop has regained his lead after hitting a rock yesterday and losing time. He has moved to be 4.1 seconds ahead of Richard Mason, with leading Australian driver Cody Crocker another 10.6 seconds back.

In terms of retirements, Citroen Junior team driver Conrad Rautenbach was the only major scalp. He had problems in SS19 and was forced to retire from the leg after an off.

Yesterday's only WRC class retirement, BP Ford Abu Dhabi Team 'third' driver Khalid Al Qassimi is back running after his damaged steering was fixed overnight. He is currently placed 30th.

Three of the four afternoon's stages are repeats, with 60.96km of racing including the third and final night at Murwillumbah for the two tarmac Tweed Super Special stages. With 124km of stages tomorrow and road position decided after SS23, tactics could play an important part later today.