Kronos Citroen number one driver, Sebastien Loeb has moved to the top of the leaderboard following the second leg of the Rally Japan on Saturday, the eleventh round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship.

Loeb began the day trailing BP Ford's Marcus Gronholm by around 10 seconds and although the Finn increased his cushion after winning the first two stages, Seb retaliated in the next test [SS13] to claim back 6.8 seconds. Gronholm then spun early on in the 22.43km Sipirkakim [SS14], something which cost him 20 seconds and the lead. The Finn then conceded another 10 seconds in SS15, after sliding off the road near the start. Loeb thus returned to the mid-day service with a 27.9 second advantage.

In the afternoon the gap remained pretty static with Gronholm and Loeb both taking another three stage wins each, although admittedly two of Seb's included the third and fourth runs through the Obihiro super special.

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Heading into the overnight halt, Loeb now leads by 25.6 seconds, and assuming he wins on Sunday, he will take his first ever victory in Japan and in doing so will beat Carlos Sainz's record, to become the most successful driver ever in the history of the WRC - with 27 wins to his credit. The Frenchman though isn't taking anything for granted and reckons he will have to keep pushing on Sunday if he is to remain in P1.

Gronholm was understandably disappointed with his two mistakes, especially as he would still have been in front without them, albeit by only 5 or so seconds. The Finn though isn't giving up and with six stages still to go, he may yet get a chance to bounce back.

Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile remains in a lonely third, over 1.5 minutes off the lead, but also way ahead of Chris Atkinson, who is fourth, over 2.5 minutes further back. The 26-year-old was again consistent and set three second fastest times in the morning and was third in the other two. During the afternoon he was never outside the top four times and as such he further cemented his place on the podium.

Chris Atkinson put in a charge early on and moved up to fifth on the very first stage when he 'passed' Daniel Sordo. He then leaped ahead of Manfred Stohl in SS15, when he posted the third quickest time. Despite a few moments, including a slight off in SS14, the Aussie took it easier in the afternoon and finished the leg as the best placed of the three works Subaru's, some 15 seconds ahead of Stohl.

Stohl admitted he preferred the drier conditions on day two and was pleased to end the leg fifth overall in his OMV-backed Peugeot 307 - especially as this is his first Rally Japan.

Daniel Sordo is also taking in the event for the first time and he too was glad to see the back of the rain. The Spaniard reckoned he could have gone quicker in the afternoon but opted for caution in order to try and ensure he scores manufacturers' points. He now lies over 40 seconds off Stohl and only 6 ahead of Petter Solberg.

Solberg has continued to suffer with brakes problems on his Impreza, but despite that the Norwegian has managed to climb up the leaderboard and is now poised to move ahead of Sordo on the final day. He also managed to set the second quickest time on the final two 'proper' tests, something that definitely boosted his morale - and the teams.

The third 'works' Subaru driver, Toshi Arai rounds out the points' scorers, having slipped around 60 seconds behind Solberg. Arai had a 'big moment' in SS16, when he hit a rock and went off the road. He later found out that he hit a photographer in that incident, but luckily the snapper was OK.

Stobart VK's Luis Perez Companc and Ford privateer, Gareth MacHale round out the top ten, the former having a good day on his first outing with the new 2006 spec Focus.

Companc's team-mate, Matthew Wilson was not so fortunate though and he became the first and thus far only, significant retirement on the day's fourth test. Wilson had turbo problems from the off this morning and conceded bags of time in his Stobart VK Ford in SS11, SS12 and SS13 as he tried to get back to service. However in the fourth stage of the day [SS14], still struggling without the turbo, he pulled over to let Atkinson by and his Focus became beached in a ditch and he was unable to continue. He will re-start on Sunday under the SupeRally format.

In the Production Car WRC category, Jari-Matti Latvala remains in front, now over a minute up on Fumio Nutahara's Mitsubishi. Gabriel Pozzo is currently on course for the final podium place in the Production class, while Marcos Ligato is fourth, giving Mitsubishi a potential 2-3-4 finish. Of the rest, Subaru's Aki Teiskonen and Leszek Kuzaj round out the top six - with Stefano Marrini seventh and Mirco Baldacci eighth.

The action now concludes on Sunday, which is the shortest leg of the event. Competitors leave Obihiro at 06.00 and head north-west of the city for two groups of stages, split by service back at the Kita Aikoku service park. The rally ends with a fifth and final pass over the super special stage next to service. Drivers tackle six tests in all covering 93.90km.