Sebastien Loeb heads the pack at the close of day two in Spain and while Jari-Matti Latvala shaved 5.2 seconds off the Frenchman's lead this afternoon, he remains 27.6 seconds ahead.

Loeb began the repeat loop with the second quickest time in El Priorat 2 and with Latvala going quickest, the Frenchman saw his cushion reduced by 3.2 seconds.

Loeb was then fractionally quicker than his Ford rival in SS11 and while Latvala took another 2.2 seconds out of the Frenchman's lead in SS12, the Citroen ace remains pretty much in control and on course for his fifth win of the season. A victory would be a welcome boost for Seb too after his woes in Germany, Australia and France. It would also allow him to re-take the outright lead in the drivers' championship.

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"We had a good run," Loeb said. "The roads were clean in the first loop but a bit dirtier in the afternoon. We didn't take any risks, as we didn't want to lose everything. We had to drive cleanly and not clip the apexes. Second time through I preferred to use the dirtier parts of the road rather than cutting the corners.

"Tomorrow, we'll have to tackle the stages in the same spirit. I'll be especially careful in the first one, as the ground will be very cold. Jari-Matti Latvala is pushing hard, but we're sure that second place will go to Mikko Hirvonen. The only thing we have to do is to make it to the end and stay in front."

Latvala meanwhile was delighted with his form and reckoned it would have been a 'fantastic fight' had he not lost so much time last night in SS6.

"That was the best day of my career on asphalt," said the columnist. "My driving on this surface is improving all the time. It's smoother and I used every centimetre of the road. I've never driven such a good car on asphalt as this Fiesta. It's so stable and handled like a racing car. When it feels as good as that I have the confidence to drive as if I was on a race track.

"Sebastien came up to me after the last stage to shake my hand and congratulate me on my time. It was a great feeling to have the seven-time world champion congratulate me for beating him on his favourite surface. Tomorrow I will try to pressurise him. I can't make up the time in normal circumstances but I will push hard and see what happens," he added.

Mikko Hirvonen completes the provisional podium in the second works Fiesta RS WRC. Hirvonen has continued to struggle though, and now finds himself nearly 2 minutes off P1 and 1 minute 24.2 seconds off P2.

"I was happy with the feeling of the car, the set-up was excellent and I thought my driving was perfect so I don't understand why I lost time this morning," Hirvonen said. "This afternoon my pace was better, especially on the final two stages. The only thing I did differently was to rev the engine higher and use lower gears, so perhaps that helped.

"I kept my position though and that was important with championship points in mind. The Power Stage will be vital tomorrow, with bonus points available. It seems as if the outcome of the title will not be decided until the final round in Britain next month, so any points that I can take from the Power Stage could be crucial at the end of the season."

Away from the top three, MINI WRT man Dani Sordo is fourth and he took his first stage win of the event in SS11, much to the delight of his home fans. However with Mikko 37.4 seconds ahead, the Spaniard looks unlikely to repeat his podium form from France and Germany.

"It has been a really good day, there have been no problems and I am very happy to have a fastest stage time," Sordo noted. "The battle with Mikko for the podium is very tough, as he is a bit far away in terms of times and the gap is now 37 seconds. However, my plans for the final day are to push Mikko really hard and fight him for the podium. It would be really nice to be on the podium here on my home rally, but I am realistic about what I have to do."

Sebastien Ogier rounds out the top five, having lost out with another puncture this morning, which cost him over 1.5 minutes. The Citroen youngster was not amused: "A very bad weekend for us, with a lot of bad luck," he lamented. "We will try and finish as well as possible now and try to forget this event."

Further back, Kris Meeke is sixth, leaving Ogier very much in a MINI sandwich. The Brit has opted for a more cautious approach in Spain and thus far it seems to be working.

"I can't complain at all about today," Meeke commented. "Probably the most important thing for me is the times relative to the top guys got a lot better on the second pass through the stages, so I am very happy about that. I wasn't trying any harder, but it just shows how it comes together when you subconsciously learn the roads. The Michelin tyres were mega consistent, particularly on the long 46 kilometre one, and on the tarmac there was maximum grip."

M-Sport Stobart Ford's Mads Ostberg and Henning Solberg lie seventh and eighth respectively, with Evgeny Novikov and the other Stobart entry of Matthew Wilson in positions 9 and 10. Novikov, who is using a Citroen DS3 WRC car in Catalunya, picked up a left rear puncture this afternoon in SS10, but he had sufficient time in hand not to lose tenth.

"I can tell you that it has been a lot more fun today compared to yesterday," Ostberg said. "Everything has been good after service and we have a lot more feeling with the brakes now. The car has been working well too and the set-up is very good.

"We have been trying to push some more but I didn't want to overdo it as it would be silly to take any unnecessary risks. I'm very happy with the speed that we have at the moment. I feel that now we are at the same place as the Sunday in France so I will be looking to push more tomorrow and it will be interesting to see where that takes us."

In the support categories, Nasser Al-Attiyah continues to lead the SWRC, but Juho Hanninen is now just 0.4 seconds back, after Al-Attiyah went off in SS10 and damaged his gearbox intercooler. As for the PWRC, Patrik Flodin has managed to pull out a bit of a gap. Michal Kosciuszko had cut the margin to 2.9 seconds after SS9, but he lost out on the repeat loop, ending the day 11 seconds adrift.

In terms of retirements, there were no major casualties today and so no one joined Petter Solberg and Kimi Raikkonen on the sidelines. Ken Block incidentally re-started under the SupeRally this morning and finished the day 31st - his best time an eighth quickest effort in SS9.

The event now concludes on Sunday with 102.62 competitive kilometres on the bill, again comprising two loops of three stages.

SS13, the 26.51 km-run through Santa Marina 1 begins at 07.02 hours local time [06.02 hours UK time].

Rally de Espana: Overall standings after Stage 12 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 3hours 06mins 01.3secs M
2. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 27.6secs M
3. Mikko Hirvonen Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 51.8secs M
4. Dani Sordo MINI WRT John Cooper Works +02mins 29.2secs
5. Sebastien Ogier Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +03mins 41.4secs M
6. Kris Meeke MINI WRT John Cooper Works +04mins 11.9secs
7. Mads Ostberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 49.1secs M
8. Henning Solberg M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +06mins 42.0secs
9. Evgeny Novikov Citroen DS3 WRC +07mins 19.8secs M
10. Matthew Wilson M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +08mins 48.8secs M

11. Dennis Kuipers FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +09mins 14.7secs M
12. Nasser Al-Attiyah Ford Fiesta S2000 +10mins 12.6secs S
13. Juho Hanninen Skoda Fabia S2000 +10mins 13.0secs S
14. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta S2000 +10mins 59.3secs S
16. Khalid Al-Qassimi Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC +11mins 08.7secs M
19. Federico Villagra Munchi's Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +14mins 00.4secs M
21. Peter van Merksteijn Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC +15mins 27.2secs M
24. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza +18mins 16.7secs P
29. Daniel Oliviera Brazil WRT MINI John Cooper Works +31mins 27.7secs M
31. Ken Block Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +33mins 21.6secs M*

SWRC standings after Stage 12 (Top 3):

1. Nasser Al-Attiyah Ford Fiesta S2000 3hours 16mins 13.9secs S
2. Juho Hanninen Skoda Fabia S2000 +00mins 00.4secs S
3. Martin Prokop Ford Fiesta S2000 +00mins 46.7secs S

PWRC standings after Stage 12 (Top 3):

1. Patrik Flodin Subaru Impreza 3hours 24mins 18.0secs P
2. Michal Kosciuszko Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +00mins 11.0secs P
3. Benito Guerra Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +07mins 52.3secs 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