Citroen's Sebastien Loeb leads the Telstra Rally Australia, round ten of the FIA World Rally Championship, after another fascinating day in the stages south of the rally's base in Perth.
The crews faced two loops of four stages plus two more super specials, and the Frenchman held the lead for all but one of those. On SS12 the Xsara WRC driver and Norway's Petter Solberg were inseparable at the top of the leaderboard. Loeb's pace through the second leg has been doubly impressive given that he is only competing on the rally for the second time.
Solberg admitted to a couple of overshoots today, but promised an all-out attack as the rally heads for a final-day showdown in the Sotico forest complex.
Richard Burns remains in third place for Peugeot, while Ford's Markko Martin moved into fourth place. Colin McRae also improved his opening-day position to end leg two in fifth place.
At Citroen the brake problems on Colin McRae's car continued for the first two stages of the day, thereafter his car ran without mechanical problems. The other two Citroens ran without trouble.
Loeb never put a wheel wrong throughout today – and his Xsara never missed a beat. Despite his lack of experience on these roads, he still managed to set four fastest times of the eight forest stages run – the other four went to his main rival Solberg, who headed back to Perth 5.0s behind him.
"Today has been perfect, no problems," noted Loeb, "The car has been great, now it's all about tomorrow – it's going to be a big day!"
Sainz and McRae meanwhile spent the day battling for sixth position with the Scot closing the gap through the morning's four stages. Sainz admitted he wasn't 100 per cent confident in the car's handling, but added that this had nothing to do with his roll last night.
McRae's brakes improved when he wound some of the balance to the rear, he felt the car was better than ever on this rally in stages 13 and 14. In the afternoon McRae passed Sainz and then moved ahead of Makinen as well to head back to Perth in fifth position, despite being concerned about a possible differential problem which was affecting the car's handling and braking. Sainz went off on SS17 after he thought his co-driver called a fourth-gear corner as a sixth-gear bend, the Spaniard ended the day in seventh.