World champion Petter Solberg
takes a 20 second lead into tomorrow [Sunday]'s final day of Propecia Rally New Zealand, the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The Subaru driver faces a fierce challenge on the last day from defending Rally New Zealand champion Marcus Gronholm [Peugeot] and joint championship leader Markko Martin [Ford] when the rally heads for the final six special stages in the Raglan region of Waikato.
Solberg, who began the day with a five second advantage over Peugeot's Harri Rovanpera, moved to 25.6 seconds clear midway through the day in the Kaipara district in Northland. The effervescent Norwegian built on his lead with solid rather than his usual spectacular driving in the new Subaru Impreza.
The challenge from Rovanpera never eventuated, but it was the senior pro and fellow Finn, Gronholm who led the fight back, taking fastest time on four of the opening six special stages.
He was joined by Martin with the Estonian never out of the top two on seven of today's eight special stages.
The margin closed to 14.2sec going into the final stage of the day, before the world champion showed his fighting spirits with a superb effort to claim fastest time on the stage. He put five seconds on second fastest Sebastien Loeb
[Citroen] and was able to extend the buffer to 19.5sec on Gronholm, with a further 4.7sec to Martin.
Loeb, the joint championship leader, finally showed his colours to win special stage 16 and move to fourth, but at one minute from the lead is not expected to play a significant part in the victory chase tomorrow.
"It's been a very tough day. I have struggled with the grip on the hard surface," Solberg said.
"I knew it could be good in the last stage of the day because the surface there is different. It is really a gravel stage compared to the previous ones where when it is clean, it as hard as tarmac.
"I feel confident for tomorrow because we start the day earlier and we should not have the problem of too soft tyres. Stages are very different in Raglan area compared to what they are here."
Spain's Daniel Sola meanwhile [Mitsubishi] will take a 10.1sec lead into the final day in the Production Car World Rally Championship.