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Martin secures healthy lead as Loeb forced out.

Markko Martin leads Rallye Catalunya at the end of leg two after leader Sebastien Loeb was forced out of the event on the second stage of Saturday morning.

Loeb, who held a slender 2.0 second lead overnight, extended his lead on the opening stage of the morning, but the new World Champion retired on SS8 after damaging the sump on his Citroen Xsara.

Martin inherited the lead, with Marcus Gronholm moving into second place in the Peugeot and the duo won five of the days eight stages between them as the crews prepare for the final six stages of the event on Sunday.

The Ford driver holds a healthy lead of 39.7 seconds as, although Gronholm was fastest through SS9, SS11 and SS13, he was unable to make serious inroads into the Estonians advantage as the Focus was near the top of the timesheets on every stage of the day.

"I'm not really attacking, just driving safely to keep ahead of those behind us and I would have adopted a different pace if Loeb was still in the rally,” Martin said at the end of the day. “I've managed to keep the same time gap all day. I wanted to finish the leg with a minimum 35 second gap and I've done that. It has been dry all leg which made tyre selection easier. Sunshine would be good tomorrow. I don't want mixed conditions because then there is the risk of making a mistake with tyre choice."

Those three stage wins have shown the pace of the Peugeot on the Spanish Tarmac, but Gronholm admits that he faces a battle to overhaul Martin on the 106.16km of stages that lie ahead.

"Everything has been OK today; I've been making small adjustments to the car and they all seem to have been working well,” he said. “I lost a little confidence on the middle stage this morning, as I felt that the back end of the car was too loose. But it was fine again for the next stage, so I don't think we have a problem. The gap to the leader is quite big, but of course we will keep on pushing. Anything can still happen."

Local hero Carlos Sainz ended the day in third place, just 11.4 seconds behind Gronholm after winning SS14 – a repeat of SS10 which had to be cancelled earlier in the day for safety reasons due to the number of spectators.

The big move of the day was privateer Stephane Sarrazin who climbed from his overnight position of sixth to end the day fourth, although well down on a podium place. Although he gained one of those places thanks to Loeb's retirement, the Frenchman worked hard for the other as he turned a 23.1 seconds deficit to works Subaru driver Petter Solberg into a 28.5 second advantage after a superbly consistent performance.



Related Pictures

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Markko Martin / Michael Park - Ford Focus RS WRC04, Rally Catalunya
Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen - Peugeot 307 WRC, Rallye Catalunya
Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti - Citroen Xsara WRC, Rally Catalunya
Martin Prokop, Michal Ernst (Ford Fiesta RS WRC, #21 Jipocar Czech National Team)
Martin Prokop, Michal Ernst (Ford Fiesta RS WRC, #21 Jipocar Czech National Team)
Martin Prokop, Michal Ernst (Ford Fiesta RS WRC, #21 Jipocar Czech National Team)
Martin Prokop, Michal Ernst (Ford Fiesta RS WRC, #21 Jipocar Czech National Team)
Martin Prokop, Michal Ernst (Ford Fiesta RS WRC, #21 Jipocar Czech National Team)
Martin Prokop, Michal Ernst (Ford Fiesta RS WRC, #21 Jipocar Czech National Team)
Martin Prokop, Michal Ernst (Ford Fiesta RS WRC, #21 Jipocar Czech National Team)
Karl Kruuda (EST) Martin Jarveoja (EST), Ford Fiesta S2000
Martin Koci (SVK) Lukas Kostka (CZE), Citroen DS3
Martin Koci (SVK) Lukas Kostka (CZE), Citroen DS3
Martin Prokop, Michal Ernst (Ford Fiesta RS WRC, #21 Jipocar Czech National Team)
Martin Prokop, Michal Ernst (Ford Fiesta RS WRC, #21 Jipocar Czech National Team)
Martin Prokop, Michal Ernst (Ford Fiesta RS WRC, #21 Jipocar Czech National Team)
Martin Prokop, Michal Ernst (Ford Fiesta RS WRC, #21 Jipocar Czech National Team)
Martin Prokop, Michal Ernst (Ford Fiesta RS WRC, #21 Jipocar Czech National Team)

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