Citroen privateer Petter Solberg will take a 3.7 second lead over Mikko Hirvonen into the final day of Rally Japan, the tenth round in the 2010 World Rally Championship.

Solberg, who is still not feeling 100 per cent, hung onto his overnight lead this morning, until he picked up a 10 second penalty for jumping the start in Kina, which dropped him down to third.

However he fought back this afternoon, setting the pace in two of the three final 'proper' tests to head into the Sapporo super specials with a 4.3 second cushion. He then took another stage win in SS17 - Sapporo 5 - before finishing the day with the fifth best time in SS18. The Norwegian will now be determined to try and end a WRC win drought that stretches right back to 2005.

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"This has been a very good day," Solberg said. "The car has been perfect all day, and it is a great feeling to know we are actually still overnight leaders.

"I'm getting better and better from my illness, and I'm really looking forward to a big fight tomorrow. I really thought I should lose more time being the first car on the road, so maybe it will be good tomorrow as well. I have no other strategy other then go 'flat out'!"

BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala meanwhile was unable to hang onto top spot after a driveshaft broke on his Ford Focus RS WRC in SS15. That cost him a substantial amount of time over the following three stages and he slipped down to fifth place, 30.7 seconds off P1.

"I was about 5km from the finish [of SS15] when the steering didn't feel right but I drove on to the end," Latvala explained. "The driveshaft had broken, leaving no drive to the front right wheel. There was nothing we could do for the final three stages.

"The car turned well into right corners, with a little oversteer like a two-wheel drive car. In left bends it understeered. It was OK in fast sections and under braking but the tighter, slower corners killed my times because I didn't have the traction.

"Sometimes life can be hard. I had a great rhythm in the stage and thought I could build a good lead, but it all turned round and on the final stages, instead of fighting for victory, I was battling to lose as little time as possible."

His misfortune means his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen is now Ford's main hope and he ended the day with his third stage win of the event.

"We had a good fight today, we had a good fight yesterday and we'll have a good fight tomorrow," Hirvonen noted. "It's fantastic to drive when you have to be on the limit for every kilometre of every stage and flat out will be the only option again tomorrow. Let's see who has the last word, but I can't wait.

"I haven't felt great today and haven't eaten anything all day but I feel better now," he continued. "I'm confident second in the start order will be an advantage in the morning."

Sebastien Ogier completes the provisional podium at this stage and he slowed on purpose in SS16 in order to ensure he will have a cleaner and potentially faster road position for day three. The Frenchman is just 5.4 seconds off Solberg and only 1.7 seconds off Hirvonen.

"The situation's quite simply ideal," said Ogier. "The third day is much shorter and there'll only be around twenty kilometres of specials to sweep. The gaps are small enough for us to have every chance of winning. The rally's outcome could even be decided in the final super special! But we're not there yet and I have to say that I'm very happy with the way today's unfolded. Our C4 was perfect and we made no mistakes."

Dani Sordo now finds himself up in fourth, another one to benefit from Latvala's driveshaft problems. He is 9.9 seconds adrift of third and 15.4 seconds up on Latvala in fifth.

"I think I lost a bit too much time on the first stage this afternoon," Sordo stated. "As for everything else, the rest of the day went extremely well. We made a lot of progress and we're in a good position for tomorrow now. The only thing we can do is push!"

Sebastien Loeb completes the top six and while he was happier today and closer to the pace, he lost too much time on day one. Indeed he is 37.9 seconds off the leader and uncharacteristically hasn't been in contention at all.

"It's really not my rally!" Loeb admitted. "This afternoon we lost around ten seconds in the long stage. We had some kind of impact in the steering and that affected the way the front differential worked. That doesn't have any influence on the way the rally's panning out and now I'm concentrating on bagging points."

Further down the order, Stobart Ford man Henning Solberg is another minute and a half back in seventh. He set some respectable times, but was unable to repeat his SS5 stage win. His best time today was fifth in SS15.

"For sure, today has been a good day," Henning reflected. "I hit a rock on SS13 and heard a big vibration - I thought I had a puncture so I slowed down but I shouldn't have as everything was fine. I also felt like the car kept pulling to the left this morning but this was sorted after service.

"It seems like I have the same problems that I was having in New Zealand - I couldn't explain it then and I still can't explain it now! I continued to struggle in the ruts today and also in the narrow sections but overall it was good. I'm happy with my pace this weekend and will continue to push tomorrow."

F1 2007 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen has gained two places today and rounds out the top eight, now 40.8 seconds ahead of Federico Villagra. The Citroen Junior team man was very consistent and was eighth quickest in every single test, bar SS17, when he was sixth.

"I'm pleased with the way that things have gone today, especially because the guys in front of me have really been pushing hard, if you look at the gaps at the top," said Raikkonen. "We've made no mistakes today and we've kept a consistent pace, which is the only way we are going to learn.

"My target before this rally was just to get to the finish and take away as much knowledge as I can, and so far I would say that we are on course to achieve this goal. The car has been really good today too: we were able just to concentrate on our driving and we learned a lot. Of course there is still some way to go, but if we can finish in this position tomorrow I will be quite happy."

SWRC leader, Jari Ketomaa completes the top ten in his Ford Fiesta S2000, 56.9 seconds up on Martin Prokop, who is second in the class and eleventh overall. Patrik Flodin, who is on course for the PWRC win, is twelfth. Flodin is more than 3 minutes up on Hayden Paddon, while Michel Jourdain completes the provisional PWRC rostrum.

In terms of retirements, Britain's Matthew Wilson was the most notable scalp, going out this morning in the opening test when he went off and got stuck in a ditch. He will re-join tomorrow under the SupeRally.

"I'm very, very frustrated - there's not a scratch on the car but we just couldn't get it back onto the road," Wilson noted. "When the front end went into the ditch I thought we could just reverse and lose ten seconds at most, but we weren't going anywhere. I then tried locking the diffs but it just seemed to make a bigger hole and more stuck.

"There were three photographers close by and they helped us try to lift the car but it was properly wedged in at this stage. The only way we could have got the car back on the road was to roll the car but there wasn't enough people to help and it would have been too big a risk. I ran to the stage end to see if we could get anybody else to help but there was nobody there. If this had been an event like Finland lots of spectators would have been there and we'd have been back on the road in under a minute. It's such a shame and I'm really disappointed."

Rally Japan now concludes on Sunday. The final leg journeys north-east of Sapporo for two loops of three new stages - near the towns of Sunagawa, Bibai and Naie - before returning to the city for two final tests inside the Sapporo Dome. Once competitors re-start at 06.00 hours there is no opportunity for service until after the final test. They face 55.68km of competition before the finish ceremony at 14.50 hours [all times local].

Rally Japan: Overall standings after Stage 18 / Day 2 (Top 10):

1. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC 2hours 28mins 46.1secs A8
2. Mikko Hirvonen BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 03.7secs M
3. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 05.4secs M
4. Dani Sordo Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +00mins 15.3secs M
5. Jari-Matti Latvala BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 30.7secs M
6. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 37.9secs M
7. Henning Solberg Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC +02mins 07.2secs M
8. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +07mins 01.3secs M
9. Federico Villagra Munchi's Ford Focus WRC +07mins 42.1secs M
10. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta S2000 +11mins 33.3secs S

SWRC Standings after Stage 18 / Day 2 (Top 3):

1. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta S2000 2hours 40mins 19.4secs S
2. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta S2000 +00mins 52.8secs S
3. Bernardo Sousa Ford Fiesta S2000 +42mins 19.9secs S

PWRC Standings after Stage 18 / Day 2 (Top 3):

1. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza STi 2hours 44mins 54.9secs P
2. Hayden Paddon Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +03mins 25.5secs P
3. Michel Jourdain Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +11mins 54.6secs P

Notable retirements:

SS3. Khalid Al-Qassmi BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC Rolled M
SS4. Toshi Arai Subaru Impreza WRC STi Accident P

SS11. Matthew Wilson Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus WRC Went off M

all times unofficial