Subaru number one driver Petter Solberg looks set to take the honours on the first WRC Rally Japan, following leg 2 today [Saturday].

The Norwegian, who was fastest through seven of the leg's eleven stages, extended his advantage to 1 minute 9.2 seconds and now looks more than comfortable at the top.

"I'm very pleased with what we've achieved today," commented Solberg. "The lead is a little more comfortable now but, as I know more than most, things can change so quickly that there's no alternative than to keep pushing. The car and the tyres have been so good today, that I just have to keep focused, follow the split times and keep it steady. I'm not out to prove anything more than that."

Citroen's Sebastien Loeb meanwhile remains second, and 'best of the rest', while Markko Martin and Carlos Sainz have both moved up a place, to third and fourth respectively, after Marcus Gronholm suffered gearbox woes, which meant he lost time and dropped down to fifth.

Although the Finn fought back to demote Sainz to fifth with a new gearbox, a bad tyre choice late in the afternoon saw him slip back again.

"We started the day optimistic that we could move up the leaderboard, but then quite suddenly we could only get third gear on SS13," explained Gronholm.

"I tried to limit the damage as much as possible, but it was clear that we were going to lose some time. In the afternoon we took a gamble on hard tyres, but it didn't pay off. I'm still optimistic that we can score some good points tomorrow."

Other than that there have been no significant changes to the leaderboad, with Francois Duval, Mikko Hirvonen and Harri Rovanpera rounding out the provisional points scorers.

Hirvonen's slim hopes of catching Duval were effectively ended when he incurred a one-minute penalty for checking into a control early.

"Receiving the time penalty was very disappointing," reflected Hirvonen, "there was a mix up somewhere, but we have to accept it and focus on continued improvement on the stages tomorrow."

Antony Warmbold is still the top privateer in ninth, while Toshi Arai completes the top ten.

There were no major retirements and all the manufacturer-entered cars are still running. 63 competitors completed leg 2, and remain in the overall standings - three more retiring today, 66 having completed leg 1 and 84 having started on Friday morning.

The third and final leg of Rally Japan starts tomorrow [Sunday] at 0530hrs, when the remaining cars will leave Obihiro parc ferme. The final day will see crews travel 60km north west of Obihiro to contest six further loose gravel forest stages (a group of three repeated), followed by a final visit to the Satsunai Super Special, and a final 111.94 competitive kilometres.

The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp at 1600hrs.


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