Citroen's Sebastien Loeb looks practically invincible following the second day of the Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo.

The Frenchman finished SS9 with nearly a two-minute advantage over Peugeot ace, Marcus Gronholm, and following the exit of his team-mate, Francois Duval in SS6, has no real competition.

Should Loeb win tomorrow, then this will be the third year on the trot that he has taken victory at the Principality, after also triumphing in 2004 and 2003.

"I am generally pleased with my day," he said. "I felt very comfortable with the car and I made three good tyre choices. The team has done a fantastic job and I really want to obtain a good result for them."

Gronholm meanwhile is locked in a three-way battle for second, just 13.6 seconds up on Ford's Toni Gardemeister, while Petter Solberg is also in contention, just 9.2 seconds further adrift in his Subaru Impreza.

"Today has been much better and I'm quite pleased actually with the performance," said Solberg. "The car has been very good to drive on the stages, and the harder compound tyres have suited my driving very well. Loeb is a long way away, but we're getting closer to the people in front, so we will have to see what we can do tomorrow."

Gilles Panizzi lies' fifth - the Frenchman having had a brilliant day, his stage win in SS8, a real boost for Mitsubishi and their new car, the Lancer Evo WRC05. His team-mate, Harri Rovanpera is seventh, while Markko Martin is sixth.

"I said yesterday that if we get a clean run, we can prove that Mitsubishi is back! I am so happy; that result was so necessary for everyone," stated Panizzi.

"Before our fastest time I was very content to be repeating our fourth fastest time; that was great and it really proved something. To have then achieved what we did this afternoon was something special for the team and I am more and more confident. Tomorrow we will be driving to the maximum again and hopefully we can catch Petter."

In the Junior WRC category, it is all change, with Kosti Katajamaki now leading, just 13.3 seconds up on Britain's Kris Meeke, while Alan Scorcioni completes the provisional podium.

Yesterday's Junior leader, Per-Gunnar Andersson retired in the final test of the day, along with his team-mate, Guy Wilks, who had been running fourth - both went off the road.

Other significant retirements included - Francois Duval, Stephane Sarrazin, Armin Schwarz, Alex Bengue and Roman Kresta.

Sarrazin was the first works' driver to go, forced into retirement, with a broken steering arm. He will re-start tomorrow, under the 2005 regulations.

Duval meanwhile also went out in SS6, when he crashed broadside into a concrete electricity pole and the resultant damage to the side of the car saw co-driver Stephane Prevot airlifted to hospital with leg pains. After checks however, he was fortunate to escape with nothing more than painful bruising.

Skoda's Armin Schwarz went out in the next test, SS7, when he rolled heavily. The German was also taken to hospital with a sore shoulder.

At the end of the day, Roman Kresta and Alex Bengue joined the list of retirees.

Kresta forced out of the leg from seventh position in the final run back to service this evening. After clouting something in the final stage, the Czech knocked a wheel off and although he got going again, he was forced to stop on the road section with a broken gearbox.

Bengue also broke a wheel in the final stage and was unable to return to Monaco and retired from eighth position.

Both Kresta and Bengue are expected to re-start tomorrow, like Sarrazin.

The final day is based in the mountains immediately to the north of Monaco and comprises two identical loops of three stages.

The first two stages of each loop are essentially today's opening stage split into two, with a short liaison section in the middle. The third features the classic Col de Turini, where spectators will gather in enormous numbers to watch competitors cross the top of the mountain before the downhill swoop towards Moulinet.

After leaving Monaco at 06.52, drivers face 116.08km of competition before the finish back in the Principality at 14.13.