Harri Rovanpera leads the way after the second leg of Rally Sweden, having absorbed continuous pressure from the Mitsubishi's of Makinen and Radstrom since taking the lead from Carlos Sainz, when he stalled, on SS9.

Four drivers fought for the lead today with Sainz, Rovanpera, Radstrom and Makinen rarely separated by more than 30 seconds, however it would be Rovanpera who fought through during the early afternoon to grab a small advantage at the top of the timesheets.

Conditions were virtually perfect for the drivers, thanks to clear blue skies and high snow banks.

Rovanpera had started the day for in second overall but during the opening two stages the Peugeot driver clawed back enough time from overnight leader Carlos Sainz to move to within three tenths of a second of the top position.

The Finn then claimed it for himself on SS9 when he capitalised on the Spanish drivers error, then went on to increase his lead further in SS10.

''Everything's gone really well today," confirmed Rovanpera. "I'm still learning more about this car on every stage, although I'm getting closer to my limits with it. But sometimes, I arrive at corners and realise I could have braked 10 metres earlier. It will still be a close fight tomorrow, because Carlos and Thomas (Radstr?m) aren't going to give up and Tommi (M?kinen) is coming up quickly.''

Didier Auriol, in the only other remaining factory 206, continued to struggle with bronchitis and soon slipped from his overnight fourth position during the morning. He recovered well during the afternoon however, and would end the second leg in sixth position, but almost 1min 30secs off his teammate.

Auriol's only mechanical concern today was a puncture on SS11, but Michelin's ATS mousse system was enough to prevent serious time loss for the 1994 World champion.

Mitsubishi's Tommi Makinen started the day in fifth position, 35 seconds adrift of the lead, but soon began his charge up the leaderboard and within three stages had powered into second, just eight seconds adrift of rally leader Rovanpera.

Tommi momentarily dropped back to third after hitting a couple of snowbanks in stage 10, however the three-times winner of the Swedish Rally set fastest time in stage 11 to move back in second position, just seven seconds adrift of Rovanpera.

''I plan to go flat-out tomorrow, but it depends on how hard Harri is pushing and how difficult he makes it for us'', commented Tommi. ''It'll be a very big fight for sure, but it's my target to win''.

Thomas Radstrom, in his debut outing with the Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team, continued to put in a fine performance, just one drift into a snowbank marring what has otherwise been a faultless day.

The Swede and fellow countrywoman Tina Thorner soon set about slashing the deficit to the leader and will start the third and final leg of their home rally in third position and in the thick of the heated four-way battle for outright honours.

''It's been very good for me with fantastic local support from people waving flags with our names on - it's been great. I don't think there will be any team orders tomorrow if we keep the throttle open!''

Team-mates Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets, who are not nominated for this event, have moved up the leaderboard into 16th position today. The Belgian Carisma GT crew have had a trouble-free run, a revised and softer set-up aiding their charge towards the end of the day. ''It's been a better day for us, especially after we softened the set-up of the car'', commented Freddy.

''A good solid performance has again underlined our developments during the winter months and specifically testing for this rally'', added team manager, George Donaldson. ''At minimum we intend to maintain positions!''

Despite being in eleventh position overall Ford Martini driver Colin McRae dominated today's special stages with a pace which was unmatched by anyone. Often almost half a second per kilometre faster than anyone else, the 32-year-old Scot reeled off quickest times at will as he climbed from an overnight 20th to 11th.

His run of stage wins ended only when he gambled on selecting Pirelli's tyre for snow and soft ice for the repeat run of the 27.79km Nyhammar and the short final test. He assumed the morning passage through the stage would have loosened the road surface but admitted his choice was wrong.

''We had nothing to lose and there's the chance of scoring manufacturer points so we decided to attack,'' said McRae. ''We've been on the limit most of the day and despite losing time on the final two stages due to a poor tyre selection, we're only 45 seconds from Kenneth Eriksson and a points finish. Snow tonight would make an improvement because it would create difficult conditions for the first few cars in the morning.''

First-day leaders Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya found it difficult running at the head of the field as a light covering of snow hindered their progress, to the benefit of those behind who enjoyed cleaner roads in temperatures which hovered around -10?C for most of the day. They ended the day in fourth, 28.5sec behind the leader.

''It's been a difficult day,'' Sainz admitted. ''I knew starting first on the road wasn't going to be easy but I thought we'd lose less time than we did. Being fourth on the road tomorrow will be better but as two of the stages are repeated I think we'll see plenty of gravel coming through the snow and ice on the second run. That's what happened on the stage that was repeated today and we lost a lot of studs from our tyres. The gravel just rips them out and it doesn't matter what type of tyre you have. Our Pirelli rubber worked well today though and I've been pleased with their performance throughout.''

Fran?ois Delecour and Daniel Grataloup enjoyed a good day in the third Focus RS, eventually climbing to fifth. Having moved into a points-scoring position, the French driver was content to drive cautiously and prevent unnecessary risks but as Kenneth Eriksson, Didier Auriol and Petter Solberg all mounted challenges, he had to raise his pace.

''We dropped a few seconds on the final stage but in general it's been a solid day,'' said Delecour. ''We've pushed hard but there's a fine line between attacking and going too hard and sliding off. We've seen the problems that can cause.''

Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson admitted Sainz had struggled with his road position, but was pleased with McRae's progress. ''He (Sainz) suffered more than anticipated by running first on the road and he lost out on the stage which was repeated when the surface had worn down to gravel. But he's still in a good position to attack tomorrow, although further back than we would ideally like him to be. Colin has been quite fantastic. He's pushing hard to move into a manufacturer points-scoring position and is now just one place away.''

Top Subaru was that of Petter Solberg who hold seventh ahead of tomorrow's final four stage. Solberg concentrated on building up further experience and mileage, even slowing himself down after he went 'too quickly' in SS9.

"The plan has gone perfectly today, and the car has felt great - very stable," enthused Solberg. "I've been very appreciative of the support on the stages from the spectators today, it really does help, and I've been amazed that it's not just the Norwegian fans, it's the Swedes too. I know Auriol knows the stages tomorrow well, but I have spoken to the team management and they have told me to take him, so that is what we will do."

Markko Martin has enjoyed gaining experience after suffering frustration in his first two outings for Subaru, and returned consistently quick times to climb five places to an overnight position of 15th.

"It's been a good day overall, everything has worked well except the conditions on Nyhammar for the second time which lost us lots of studs and made the superspecial very difficult. But we've been fine mechanically, and today has been a big improvement on yesterday," commented Martin.

Martin's only technical problems consisted of setting his suspension too soft for a series of jumps near the end of the day's first stage, forcing him to back off after he clouted the car's sump guard in a heavy landing.

Richard Burns started the day with no chance of even a point, but the Briton has nevertheless been at the sharp end of almost every stage, as he experimented with both tyre choice and differential settings and gaining experience of some new stages.

"The tyres have worked so well here, and I am really pleased with the development work Pirelli has undertaken," revealed Burns. "It's given us an edge right through the rally. We did lose some studs on SS11 and as a consequence were a bit slower on the last pair of stages, but that is not surprising considering the amount of gravel we found on the second time through Nyhammar. I am keeping my concentration on the stages, but in order to collect some manufacturers' points, we really dependent on what the other drivers do. We'll see what tomorrow brings."

Hyundai's Kenneth Eriksson pushed his Accent to the limit as he can no longer rely on a lower position in the running order, and the swept clean roads that go with it. He clouted a snow bank in SS7, bending navigator Staffan Parmander's door, but he still held sixth until gearbox problems intervened in SS11, fortunately these were solved in time for the final stage of the day (SS12) and the Swede will start the third leg in tenth place - and as the next target for Colin McRae.

Teammate Alister McRae's Accent WRC was forced onto the retirements list when its engine lapsed onto three cylinders and then expired on the day's opening stage. ''The car went onto three cylinders, then two and a half, and the oil temperature went up to a seriously high level. It's bitterly disappointing because I was really encouraged by our speed yesterday,'' remarked McRae.

Skoda began the day disappointingly when Armin Schwarz's Swedish Rally ended 9km into SS8. The German slid into a snow bank which subsequently gave way and dragged his Octavia into a ditch. He and Manfred Hiemer couldn't find enough spectators to help them back onto the road, and they retired on the spot.

''We decided to push hard, but lost out," explained Schwarz. "We broke a wheel on a rock as we slid into the ditch but if we'd got back onto the road, I think we could have continued. It's disappointing.''

Bruno Thiry continued to hold a position just outside the top ten, being eventually overtaken by Colin McRae towards the end of the day, he will start tomorrows final leg in twelfth place.

The Belgian's main concern of the day was rising temperatures and dropping power outputs on the car's engine during SS9 and SS10. He also experimented with differential settings, although he has struggled to find a compromise setting between fast and twisty stages.

Toni Gardemeister remains the top privateer in eighth, after his Grifone team managed to cure a mysterious engine problem this morning. The Finn remains comfortably clear of Daniel Carlsson's Corolla, although the young Swede still holds a top ten placing on only his second outing in a World Rally Car.

In the FIA Teams Cup section, Pasi Hagstrom continues to occupy the leading position in his Toyota Corolla. European champion Henrik Lundgaard is becoming much happier with ice driving on his first winter rally, but the Dane acknowledges that he will not be able to catch Hagstrom unless trouble strikes the Finn.

Stig-Olov Walfridsson's Group N lead looked perilous at the beginning of the second leg of the rally, but he has driven immaculately in his Carisma GT and has built up a comfortable two-minute advantage as his rivals dropped back.

''There is no pressure now and we try to take it carefully. The car and the tyres are fine, and the important thing now is to keep concentration and not to make any mistakes,'' local man Walfridsson said.

His chief rival Kenneth Backlund was almost level with his fellow Carisma GT driver until he skidded into a snowbank on the second stage of the day and got stuck for two minutes, although he retains second in the class.

''There is not much we can do now we lost too much this morning and I don't think Stig-Olov will make a mistake. It was just a small error, but at least we didn't damage the car,'' Backlund said.

A tremendous battle for third place has developed between two of the great names in Swedish motorsport, 1984 World Champion Stig Blomqvist and double Swedish Rally winner Mats Jonsson, both driving Carisma GTs.

''We have a real fight now with Mats, which is good fun. I hope we can stay in front, but it is not easy. I think tomorrow's stages can be quite tricky as well,'' Blomqvist commented.

The final leg of the International Swedish Rally starts from Karlstad at 06:30 hrs on Sunday. With a forecast of snow in the morning, the remaining five stages and 97 competitive kilometres around the northerly town of Hagfors are sure to be the scene of a colossal fight for victory.