team leader, Sebastien Loeb
has ended the second leg of the Rally d'Italia Sardegna, the seventh round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, poised to win his fifth event in succession.
The Frenchman took over the lead on SS8, when Marcus Gronholm hit a rock and retired. That put Loeb in a dominant position, over a minute up on his nearest challenger, Mikko Hirvonen, in the second BP Ford
In the end the 2004 and 2005 world champion managed to win four of the day's six stages to head into the final leg with over 2 minutes in hand. Should he win, he will further extend his advantage at the top of the drivers' championship and assuming everyone finishes where they are now his lead will go up from 21 points to 31.
Hirvonen meanwhile, despite a scare in SS9, when he hit a bank and damaged the rear suspension on his Ford, is in a solid second place, 40 seconds or so up on Daniel Sordo, who took third from Gigi Galli in the final test. The Italian had looked set to be on course - or at least in contention - for another podium in the Pirelli backed Peugeot 307, however he was forced to retire following the final test of the day, when he had engine problems.
As such Xavier Pons moved up to fourth, to give Kronos Citroen
a potential 1-3-4 finish, the Spaniard, who is the team's official second driver, is though some way off Sordo, 1min 30secs behind.
Further-down the order, Chris Atkinson
is fifth for Subaru, the Aussie though lost quite a bit of time after a mistake in SS8, when he misjudged a jump and landed heavily, the impact closing up the air intake to the engine and reducing power for the remainder of the stage. Although he made repairs prior to the next stage and having opened up the air intake was back on the pace in SS9, it took the Banbury based team some time to fix the car in the mid-day service and as a result he picked up 2 minutes in penalties, after he was late leaving for the second loop.
Mitsubishi privateer, Jussi Valimaki lies sixth, after a solid day, while Kristian Sohlberg is seventh, the former Mitsubishi works driver going well on his second WRC event of the season with the Red Devil Atoyle Kazaz squad.
Of the rest, Petter Solberg
is on course to take the final drivers' point after re-starting under the SupeRally format, after he was forced out in SS6 on Friday following a string of punctures. The Subaru World Rally team leader set a number of good stages times during the second day and was quickest through SS11, as he concentrated on testing for the Acropolis Rally in two weeks time.
OMV Peugeot's Manfred Stohl and First Skoda's Francois Duval complete the top ten, neither particularly happy with their cars, while Gareth MacHale is eleventh with Luis-Perez Companc, now the best placed of the Stobart
VK trio in twelfth and Red Bull Skoda duo, Andreas Aigner and Harri Rovanpera are 13th and 14th respectively.