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.
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.