Finnish driver Marcus Gronholm has strengthened his grip on the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally Australia, which continued today.

He and his navigator Timo Rautiainen fended off any early challenge from Petter Solberg this morning, and then posted three fastest stage times in quick succession this afternoon to build their leg one lead of half a minute up to nearly 50 seconds.

Competition has been close for the remaining podium positions, with Solberg fighting off Carlos Sainz and the improving 206 WRC of Gronholm's team-mate, Harri Rovanpera.

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But there was disappointment for 1995 world champion Colin McRae; he also increased his speed this morning, but he was forced to retire after he terminally damaged his Ford's radiator after a heavy landing on the car's nose.

The Peugeot 206 WRCs of Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera have been reliable. Gronholm consolidated his overnight lead on this morning's first few stages, then attacked in the final tests this afternoon to increase the margin between himself and second-placed Petter Solberg to almost 50 seconds.

His team-mate Harri Rovanpera found greater speed after changing the pedal set-up on his 206 to an older specification; the Finn quickly moved past Carlos Sainz this morning and a string of fastest times was enough to keep him within 25 seconds of Solberg at the end of leg two.

''I'm actually quite bored now, to be honest!'' commented Gronholm. ''Today we've just been concentrating on not making mistakes and keeping the other guys at a good distance, and that's been quite easy. I have the feeling that I could even go a little quicker, but there's no point in taking risks. I'm looking forward to getting the final few stages out of the way tomorrow.''

Team-mate Rovanpera continued: ''We changed something with the pedals at the pre-event testing and I didn't have total confidence in the car yesterday, but we've gone back to the original settings now and it's been much better. I'm pushing hard but at the same time, it only takes a small mistake here for you to end your rally, so I'm still braking quite carefully.''

At Subaru meanwhile the Impreza WRC2002s of Petter Solberg and Tommi Makinen have hit a few niggles. Both have suffered from EMI mousse insert break-ups (Makinen encountered two problems on separate stages), and Solberg also lost time with a softening damper in SS16 and a front differential problem in the same test.

Solberg expected a strong challenge from Carlos Sainz this morning so he charged; it proved good enough, as he eased further clear of the Spaniard and into a relatively comfortable second overall. In the later stages, however, he still faced pressure from the fast-recovering Harri Rovanpera. A damper problem and a broken mousse insert cost the Norwegian more time and, although he ended the day second, he only had just over 20 seconds in hand over the pursuing Peugeot driver.

Solberg's team-mate Makinen had to worry about Colin McRae in this morning's first few stages and he lost time with a mousse insert break-up this morning and then two more tyre vibrations this afternoon, but the Finn still holds fifth. He's over half a minute adrift of Carlos Sainz, however.

Solberg said: ''I'm trying as hard as possible but it hasn't been easy today. Things were fine this morning but when the stages get really quick, I don't seem able to stay with the Peugeots. All I can do now is try to make sure that Harri stays behind me and see what happens. Maybe Marcus has to have a problem sometime!''

Team-mate Makinen added: ''The mousse problems are really frustrating. It's impossible to catch anyone when you can't even see where you're going and because they've been at the front, we've had a massive vibration and lost quite a lot of time. I've made the odd mistake myself, too - I stalled the engine on the start line of the first stage today.''

At Ford the Focus RS WRC02s of Carlos Sainz and Francois Duval have been reliable, but Markko Martin reported his car's engine cutting out in SS17. Colin McRae was forced to retire his Focus, meanwhile, when it suffered terminal radiator damage after a heavy landing in SS14.

Sainz was unable to match Solberg's pace this morning after he opted for too hard a compound of tyre for the opening three stages. The Spaniard also lost third overall to Harri Rovanpera and although he matched the Finn's speed on many of this afternoon's tests, he still arrived back in Perth this evening almost 20 seconds behind his Peugeot-mounted rival. Sainz is comfortable in fourth, however, since Tommi M?kinen is more than 40 seconds further back.

Colin McRae's challenge appeared to have been brought back to life by the switch of stages this morning and the Scot began to inch closer to Makinen, but on the day's fifth stage his car landed heavily on its nose after a fast jump. Although he finished the test, the landing had inflicted terminal damage on the Focus's radiator and it could proceed no further.

Colin McRae said: ''I knew the moment that we landed that we'd done something to the sumpguard, but we still made it to the end of the stage. It was only then that we realised the radiator was losing a lot of water and was quite badly damaged. It's disappointing, because today was actually going better and I think we could have gained one or two positions.''

Markko Martin meanwhile lost time with a poor tyre choice this morning and the Estonian was overhauled by his team-mate Francois Duval when his engine cut out intermittently in SS17 this afternoon. Martin recovered in the day's last forest stage to arrive at the Langley Park superspecial less than a second clear of Duval. Duval though was joint second quickest in the superspecial and jumped back in front. Heading into tomorrow just 0.8 seconds separate the two.

Skoda's Toni Gardemeister has enjoyed a basically troublefree day in his Octavia WRC. Kenneth Eriksson's car, meanwhile, lost its rear differential pressure in SS15 and the Swede had to complete the following test before he could reach service. He also bent the car's right-front wishbone when he clipped a tree stump on this morning's second stage.

Gardemeister felt that today's stages were even more slippery than yesterday's, but the young Finn enjoyed solid reliability from his Skoda and he took advantage to ease further into the top 10. He ended leg two in eighth, albeit almost a minute adrift of seventh-placed Markko Martin.

Eriksson, meanwhile, bent a wishbone when he clipped a tree stump in SS11. But the Swede effected running repairs and made it back to service in time for his Skoda mechanics to fix the damage completely. He also lost time with a rear differential problem which appeared at the end of SS15 and hampered his progress in SS16. Eriksson still reached the end of the day in 11th, however.

Gardemeister said: ''It's been going okay today - we've at least had a clean run, which has allowed us to see where we are in terms of speed. The only thing has been that I'm still braking a little early for some corners, just because there's a bit more grip than I'd expected. But it's better to brake too early than too late, I guess.''

Jani Paasonen's Mitsubishi Lancer Evo WRC was reliable, although the Finn damaged the car's turbo when he rolled.

Paasonen was aiming gain further experience of the roads in Australia today and he achieved that, but not without drama. The Finn tipped his Lancer over at a junction and although it came to rest on its wheels, the damage to the car's bonnet had been sufficient to hamper its turbo piping. Paasonen lost well over a minute in the incident, and then dropped a further 60 seconds in road penalties as the Ralliart mechanics repaired the damage at the following service. He finished the day 12th.

''The roll was quite unlucky,'' commented Paasonen. ''I came to a junction and the car touched the inside of the corner. It wasn't very quick but there was enough speed to take it over and right back onto its wheels again. I just had to restart the engine and then we could continue, but I think when the bonnet had touched the ground it had damaged a turbo pipe because we lost quite a lot of power. It's a shame because it was going well up to that point. But at least we can continue and get even more experience.''

Mitsubishi has also issued an update on the condition of navigator Daniel Grataloup, who was injured when he and his driver Francois Delecour crashed heavily yesterday afternoon. After further examination, Grataloup has been transferred from intensive care to a general ward and there are no plans for any surgery to be carried out at the moment. Grataloup is in good spirit and has even released a short interview on the accident.

Grataloup said: ''Last year when we had the accident here I was unconscious so I didn't know what was happening, but this time I saw everything. We were going so fast, about 160kph, and we hit a very big tree and I knew the car was going to be bad. When I stopped I couldn't speak and Francois was slumped in the seat next to me; I thought my injuries would be worse than they are.''

At Hyundai the sole remaining Accent of Juha Kankkunen has been generally ok, although the four-times world champion did complain of a lack of low-end torque; possibly the result of the misfire caused by spark plug problems yesterday. A change of turbo at service this morning restored the car's engine to full health, however.

Kankkunen started today ready to shoulder the Hyundai team's hopes after its disappointment yesterday afternoon. The Finn's Accent suffered from a misfire yesterday and he still believed that its engine wasn't quite on full song this morning, but a change of turbo improved matters this afternoon. Four-times world champion Kankkunen finished the day 10th overall, over 30 seconds behind Sebastien Loeb's Citroen.

Kankkunen said: ''I'm still trying to push as hard as possible but today's stages have been drier and thus more slippery, especially when we're running as second car on the road. The engine seemed to lack some low-end torque first thing this morning but the guys have fixed it.''

Of the other entries Citroen Sport driver Sebastien Loeb has continued to experiment with suspension and differential settings on his Piedrafita-run Xsara WRC today; the Rallye Deutschland winner ended the day in a lonely ninth overall.

Despite a spin this morning, Malaysian driver Karamjit Singh remains on course to claim the FIA Production Car World Championship after today's stages. His main rival, Finn Kristian Sohlberg, retired in SS14 with a broken suspension arm, and although Peruvian Ramon Ferreyros can still lift the title as well, he would need to claim maximum points with Singh retiring to achieve that.

The category is actually being led by Japanese driver Toshihiro Arai, who completed his recovery from brake problems by overhauling Alex Fiorio in SS15. The Group N class overall leader is Austrian Manfred Stohl.

Rally statistics - Leg two:

Starters: 55 crews (21 Group A and 34 Group N) started this morning.

Retirements: C. McRae (GB), and 5 other drivers.

Today - Saturday 2 November: Leg 2 started from Perth at 07h00 and covered 539.15km, including 147.27km on 11 special stages.

Tomorrow - Sunday 3 November: Leg 3 starts from Perth at 07h00 and covers 353.79km, including 105.69km on four special stages. The first car is expected to arrive in at the finish control in Perth at 16h00.

Weather forecast: Fine but still with a small chance of the occasional shower.

Stage by stage summary - Leg two:

SS10 Kev's (9.56kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 5m 51.8
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 5m 52.3
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 5m 52.8

Leaders after SS10:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 24m 38.3
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 1h 25m 06.8
3. Sainz (E) Ford 1h 25m 14.2

SS11 Beraking (26.46kms):
1. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 14m 23.3
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 14m 25.0
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 14m 27.6

Leaders after SS11:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 39m 03.3
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 1h 39m 34.4
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 1h 39m 55.3

SS12 Helena South 1 (18.43km):
1. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 9m 28.9
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 9m 29.3
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 9m 30.4

Leaders after SS12:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 48m 33.7
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 1h 49m 03.7
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 1h 49m 24.2

SS13 York Railway (5.30kms):
1. C. McRae (GB) Ford 3m 32.3
1. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 3m 32.3
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 3m 33.5

Leaders after SS13:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 51m 07.2
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 1h 51m 38.6
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 1h 52m 06.0

SS14 Muresk 1 (6.81kms):
1. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 3m 24.9
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 3m 25.3
3. Sainz (E) Ford 3m 26.8

Leaders after SS14:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 54m 35.9
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 1h 55m 03.9
3. Rovanper? (FIN) Peugeot 1h 55m 33.8

SS15 Muresk 2 (6.81kms):
1. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 3m 24.0
1. Sainz (E) Ford 3m 24.0
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 3m 24.1

Leaders after SS15:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 58m 00.0
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 1h 58m 32.2
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 1h 58m 57.8

SS16 Flynns Short (19.98kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 11m 33.8
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 11m 39.8
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 11m 40.0

Leaders after SS16:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 09m 33.8
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 2h 10m 12.0
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 2h 10m 28.3

SS17 Helena North Extended (28.87km):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 16m 20.7
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 16m 30.1
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 16m 33.9

Leaders after SS17:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 25m 54.5
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 2h 26m 42.1
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 2h 27m 02.2

SS18 Helena South 2 (18.43kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 9m 20.7
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 9m 21.5
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 9m 23.2

Leaders after SS18:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 35m 15.2
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 2h 36m 03.4
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 2h 36m 25.4

SS19 Atkins 2 (4.42kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2m 58.2
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 2m 59.3
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 2m 59.3
4. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 2m 59.6

Leaders after SS19:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 38m 13.4
2. Solberg (N) Subaru +49.5
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot +1m 11.6

SS20 Langley Park Super 3 (2.20kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 1m 27.6
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1m 28.8
2. Duval (B) Ford 1m 28.8
4. Martin (EE) Ford 1m 28.9

Leaders after SS20 / Leg 2:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2h 39m 42.2
2. Solberg (N) Subaru +48.3
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot +1m 12.7
4. Sainz (E) Ford +1m 32.4
5. Makinen (FIN) Subaru +2m 18.2
6. Duval (B) Ford +4m 21.1
7. Martin (EE) Ford +4m 21.9
8. Gardemeister (FIN) Skoda +5m 14.9
9. Loeb (F) Citroen +6m 25.6
10. Kankkunen (FIN) Hyundai +7m 05.8