Citroen team leader, Sebastien Loeb not only maintained his overnight lead today [Saturday] during the second leg of the Rally New Zealand but extended his advantage to nearly a minute over second-placed Marcus Gronholm.
Loeb enjoyed a particularly strong day winning four out of the six 'proper' tests as he looks to get his championship defence back on track, following a no-score in Sweden and bad luck in Mexico.
Despite a scare on SS11, on the repeat run through Bull [SS14], the Frenchman was flying ending the test some 16 seconds quicker than anyone else!
"The surface had been swept clean during the first run and my wear-resistant, hard compound tyres allowed me to corner hard [on the second loop]," he explained. "They were great. When I saw the split times showing that I was pulling clear of my rivals, I decided to push hard."
The battle for second meanwhile has been intense, with Petter Solberg claiming the position after today's third stage [SS11], only to lose it after SS13 by just 0.5 seconds. He overnights in third, but has nevertheless improved, overhauling Francois Duval for the final provisional podium position. The Belgian now lies in a comfortable fourth.
Gronholm believes though that the battle for second could go all the way to the wire and anticipates a tough fight with 'Hollywood' tomorrow.
"It's clear that we are not going to win this rally, and while I never like finishing second that is the best we can do here now," said the Finn. "Now it is a question of just driving to the finish and trying to keep Petter behind. That will not be easy – he has been very quick and I have a big fight on my hands."
The battle for fifth has been equally strong with Ford's Toni Gardemeister moving up the leaderboard, despite experiencing a number of these stages for the first time, to claim the place ahead of Peugeot's Markko Martin and Subaru's Chris Atkinson.
"We had an excellent day and found good speed," said Toni. "The Focus RS is well-suited to these stages. We had no problems and I enjoyed driving these fantastic roads. Tomorrow we'll continue to hard and I'm confident we can keep Markko behind us."