Sebastien Loeb remains in the lead on Rally de Espana following Saturday morning's opening loop.

Loeb began the second day with a 30.6 second advantage and he started strong by setting the pace in SS7, 4.3 seconds up on Jari-Matti Latvala, his closest rival.

The Citroen man was then quickest again in SS8 to stretch his cushion by another 1.1 seconds.

However he was a bit more cautious in SS9, and trailed Latvala in second by 3.2 seconds. Consequently he returned to the mid-day service with a 32.8 second margin ahead of the repeat runs this afternoon.

"Everything went well for us this morning; we had a good run without taking risks," Loeb said. "During the first pass the road was clean. We made a point of not cutting the corners, and drove as if we were on a race track without using the grass.

"I hope that the others will do the same and not dirty the roads too much for the second passage."

Latvala meanwhile was happy to be able to hold his own against Loeb and he was especially pleased to top the times in Punta de les Torres 1 in his Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC car.

"That was the best I've ever driven in this rally and winning the last stage was a real confidence boost," said the columnist. "My driving on this surface is improving all the time, but I need to remove the small mistakes. It's smoother now and I used every centimetre of the road. I enjoy driving the Fiesta on this surface. It handles like a racing car and is really competitive.

"If I hadn't made a mistake last night and lost my lead, it could have been a fantastic fight today. I'll keep pushing as hard as I can to try to put pressure on Loeb. But it's quite a task to claw back 30 seconds from a seven-time world champion on his favourite surface," added the Finn.

Mikko Hirvonen is next up in the sister works Fiesta RS WRC car, albeit now almost a minute adrift of P2 after only setting fourth, sixth and fifth best times in SS7, 8 and 9 respectively, much to his disappointment.

"I'm happy with the feeling of the car, the set-up is excellent and I thought my driving was perfect so I don't understand why I lost time," Hirvonen lamented. "I'll continue to push as hard as I can and try to maintain the good rhythm that I have and see if I can find where I'm losing time."

Away from the top three, Dani Sordo now lies fourth in his MINI WRT John Cooper Works WRC car, having moved ahead of Sebastien Ogier, when the Frenchman lost time in SS7 with another rear puncture.

Ogier initially dropped down to sixth, but moved back up to P5 and ahead of the other works MINI of Kris Meeke in SS8.

"This morning, our aim was to close the gap to Hirvonen," Ogier noted. "Unfortunately, we punctured for the second time in the rally. Yesterday, it was my fault. Today I don't understand what happened as we avoided clipping the apexes. Now we'll just have to re-boost our motivation. After all, we're only halfway through the rally."

Mads Ostberg, Henning Solberg, Evgeny Novikov and Matthew Wilson hold positions 7 through to 10, with SWRC class leader, Nasser Al-Attiyah eleventh and Dennis Kuipers twelfth.

The second leg now concludes with a repeat-run through this morning's three tests. SS10, the 45.97 kilometre-run through El Priorat 2, is due to start at 14.48 hours local time [13.48 hours British time].

Rally de Espana: Overall standings after Stage 9 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 2hours 24mins 58.0secs M
2. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 32.8secs M
3. Mikko Hirvonen Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 32.7secs M
4. Dani Sordo MINI WRT John Cooper Works +02mins 19.5secs
5. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +03mins 36.1secs M
6. Kris Meeke MINI WRT John Cooper Works +03mins 42.0secs
7. Mads Ostberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 10.9secs M
8. Henning Solberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +05mins 11.9secs
9. Evgeny Novikov Citroen DS3 WRC +05mins 56.0secs M
10. Matthew Wilson M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +07mins 09.1secs M


11. Nasser Al-Attiyah Ford Fiesta S2000 +07mins 42.2secs S
12. Dennis Kuipers FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +07mins 45.3secs M
13. Juho Hanninen Skoda Fabia S2000 +08mins 02.3secs S
14. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta S2000 +08mins 56.2secs S
15. Khalid Al-Qassimi Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC +09mins 15.5secs M
18. Peter van Merksteijn Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC +10mins 01.8secs M
20. Federico Villagra Munchi's Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +12mins 03.1secs M
24. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza +13mins 49.8secs P

SWRC standings after Stage 9 (Top 3):

1. Nasser Al-Attiyah Ford Fiesta S2000 2hours 32mins 40.2secs S
2. Juho Hanninen Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 20.1secs S
3. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta S2000 +01mins 14.0secs S

PWRC standings after Stage 9 (Top 3):

1. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza 2hours 38mins 47.8secs P
2. Michal Kosciuszko Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +00mins 02.9secs P
3. Benito Guerra Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +06mins 44.2secs P

Notable retirements:

SS1. Petter Solberg PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC Broken wheel M
SS1. Ken Block Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Broken steering M*
SS3. Kimi Raikkonen ICE1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC Engine M

* denotes re-started under SupeRally

all times unofficial