BP Ford team leader, Marcus Gronholm closed in on his fourth win of the season on his home event on Saturday, ending the second leg of the Rally Finland with a more than comfortable margin.

Gronholm dominated proceedings on day two and was quickest through seven of the day's eight tests to stamp his authority on the event, the tenth round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship.

While the battle between Gronholm and Loeb was pretty close through the first two tests, after Loeb hit a rock in SS12, losing 30-odd seconds, the Frenchman seemingly eased off, allowing the Finn to pull further and further ahead. Following the middle loop Gronholm was 49.7 seconds in front, before stretching that further in the final two tests. Heading into the overnight halt he is 1 minute 7.8 seconds up on Loeb.

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Providing he can make it to the finish on Sunday, this will be Gronholm's sixth win in seven years on the event, formally known as 'The Rally of the Thousand Lakes'.

Loeb meanwhile looks like he will have to wait at least one more year before he can 'tick' off the Rally Finland. It is one of only two events on the current schedule that he has yet to win.

Early on he was matching Gronholm and was only 1.7 seconds off him in SS10, before going 1.3 seconds quicker in SS11. However SS12 proved pivotal, when Loeb cut a corner 5 kilometres before the finish of the Ouninpohja Ita 1 test and clipped a large bolder on the apex. The impact burst his Xsara's front-left tyre and the car arrived at the time control with shredded rubber flailing from its wheel. While a number of other drivers also hit the same rock, including Gronholm, this time it was Loeb who had the misfortune.

After that the Kronos Citroen driver eased off, conscious that while he couldn't catch Gronholm anymore, he was still on for second and eight championship points.

BP Ford's Mikko Hirvonen rounds out the top three, 40 seconds adrift of Loeb. The Finn cracked the windscreen on his Focus on the first run through the two Ouninpohja tests, but other than that he had an uneventful day, posting top five stages time throughout, including four third quickest times.

OMV Peugeot's Henning Solberg is next up in fourth, although the Norwegian is two minutes behind Hirvonen. Henning was solid throughout and despite losing the front brakes in SS12, still managed to post the third best time!

Gigi Galli completes the top five also in a Peugeot 307, although his car is being run by BSA. The Italian ended the day with some front-end damage on his Pirelli-branded car, but looks set for another good result on what is only his fourth outing of the season with the Peugeot.

Further-down the order, Janne Tuohino is sixth in his Citroen Xsara WRC-run by PH Sport, while Mitsubishi privateer, Jussi Valimaki is 20 seconds adrift in seventh, followed by the Czech Rally Team Skoda Fabia WRC of Jan Kopecky. OMV Peugeot's Manfred Stohl and Stobart VK driver, Matthew Wilson round out the top ten, the former over 3.5 minutes off the final drivers' points' paying position.

Of the rest, Anton Alen and Patrik Flodin are engaged in an exciting battle for the Group N honours, the two Subaru Impreza's split by around 10 seconds, having traded times and places most of the day - they lies eleventh and twelfth overall. Chris Atkinson comes in 13th, just in front of JWRC leader, Guy Wilks, while Kosti Katajamaki is 15th. Atkinson started the day in sixth but lost loads of time on the first loop when he had gearbox problems which meant he was stuck in third gear throughout. He tumbled down the standings as a result, losing more than 12 minutes. Katajamaki had a good day, after re-starting under the SupeRally, following his mechanical problems on day one when he hit a rock. He set some good times and would have made more progress, but for hitting another rock in SS12, the same one that cost Loeb 30 seconds.

In terms of retirees, three 'works' drivers' were forced out, namely Petter Solberg, Xavier Pons and Daniel Sordo. Solberg crashed out in SS11, the first run through the 13.98 kilometre Ouninpohja Lansi stage. Just 700 metres from the start, on a fast section, the rear of Petter's Impreza drifted wide over a crest and touched a bank, launching the vehicle into a series of rolls. Solberg and co-driver Phil Mills were shaken but uninjured in the crash, but their Impreza was too badly damaged to continue. They will not re-start on Sunday.

Xavier Pons also crashed out in the same test, rolling his Kronos-run Citroen Xsaa WRC. Immediately after their off Pons and his co-driver, Carlos del Barrio rang the Belgian-based squad to confirm they were both OK. It is not yet known if they will re-join the fold.

Sordo went out on the Ouninpohja Lansi stage too, but on the second run through it as SS14. Sordo's Xsara WRC left the road straight after a jump and while Sordo and co-driver Marc Marti were uninjured, the mechanical damage to the car meant they retired from the leg. He will not be able to re-start.

In the Junior WRC class, Kris Meeke maintained his lead most of the day until the final stage in the middle loop. He damaged his Citroen C2 on the second run through Ouninpohja Ita, when he landed heavily following a jump. The Brit ended the day eighth, picking up time penalties for failing to complete SS15, SS16 and SS17 - assuming he can re-start under the SupeRally he looks set to salvage at least one point.

His exit promoted Wilks into P1, the Englishman heading the Junior runners in seven of the days eight tests and finishing up more than 2 minutes up on his Suzuki Swift team-mate, Per-Gunnar Andersson, who lies second. Andersson had to stop to change a puncture in SS17 but still finished up more than 5 minutes up on Matti Rantanen, who completes the JWRC podium in his Honda Civic Type R.

Julien Pressac is fourth and the best placed of the Citroen C2 runners, while Conrad Rautenbach, Jozef Beres and Jaan Molder are fifth, sixth and seventh. Current JWRC points' leader, Patrik Sandell lies ninth more than 1 minute up on Fabien Fiandino, who is standing in for the injured Brice Tirabassi and who is giving the C2-R2 its JWRC debut.

The third and final leg of the Rally Finland starts on Sunday from Jyvaskyla at 0830hours local time. It includes four more timed tests and 60 competitive kilometres, taking crews to two more classic gravel stages to the west of Rally HQ, which are then repeated.