Gronholm closes in on Welsh win.

Marcus Gronholm is closing in on victory in Wales Rally GB after extending his advantage on the second day of competition in the Welsh forests.

The BP Ford man started the day with an advantage of 25.8secs over Petter Solberg with the Subaru man seemingly poised to try and launch an attack in his quest to secure a fifth straight Welsh win, but the wheels started to come off his challenge on the very first stage of the day.

The first run through Crychan saw Solberg lose time with a brief off into a ditch and when he then hit a gatepost in the afternoon run through Epynt and damaged his steering, the Norwegian's challenge effectively came to an end.

For Gronholm however, the day passed without major incident despite heavy rain hitting the stages to such an extent that some drivers claimed to be unable to see exactly where they were going as their windscreen wipers struggled to deal with the volume of water.

The Finn secured another five stage wins over the course of the day to head back to service following the Cardiff Superspecial in the Millennium Stadium with a healthy lead of just under a minute and 20 seconds.

"It was really slippery but there was no rain on the stages so conditions weren't too bad," Gronholm said. "The first cars on the road had an advantage in those conditions but there was nothing to worry about where I was. The surface was hard so the roads weren't cutting up. I made no mistakes and was able to ease off a little when I heard that Petter had gone off."

With Solberg's problems, second overnight is the OMV Peugeot of Manfred Stohl, although the Austrian driver was unable to match his front-running pace from the opening leg. Admitting that conditions were more difficult on the stages than on Friday, he was quickest through Crychan 2 but then struggled for pace in the following two 'big' stages before heading to Cardiff in what has become a lonely second place, with Gronholm seemingly out of touch ahead and Solberg some 50 seconds behind.

After blitzing SS6 on Friday afternoon, Solberg ended leg one with a smile on his face, but losing 30secs on SS7 on Saturday morning wasn't part of the plan for leg two. The Subaru man bounced back from the disappointment of that mistake to post top three times on the following two stages to ensure that he had reclaimed second spot from Stohl when the crews returned to Felindre and the mid-day service.

Despite setting a time slower than Stohl on the return to Crychan, Solberg retained second place heading on the Epynt stages before he fell foul of the same gatepost that forced Gronholm to retire two years ago. While the impact didn't prevent Solberg from getting out of the stage, damage to the steering saw him lose 50 seconds. As if that time loss wasn't bad enough, Solberg and Phil Mills were then faced with the long drive to and from Cardiff for the Superspecial, where Solberg still managed to out on a show for the fans with the stricken car.

Related Pictures

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Marcus Gronholm (FIN) - Timo Rautiainen (FIN), BP Ford Focus WRC. Wales Rally GB, 1st-3rd December 2006.
Manfred Stohl (AUT) - Ilka Minor (AUT), OMV Peugeot Norway WRT 307 WRC. Wales Rally GB, 1st-3rd December 2006.
Petter Solberg (N) - Philip Mills (GBR), Subaru WRT Impreza WRC. Wales Rally GB, 1st-3rd December 2006.
Alexey Lukyanuk - Ford Fiesta R5
Alexey Lukyanuk - Ford Fiesta R5
Pierre Louis Loubet (FRA) - Vincent Landais (FRA) Citroen DS3 R5
Pierre Louis Loubet (FRA) - Vincent Landais (FRA) Citroen DS3 R5
Karl Kruuda (EST) - Martin Jarveoja (EST) Ford Fiesta R5, Drive Dmack Trophy Team
Scott Pedder (AUS) Dale Moscatt (AUS), Skoda Fabia R5
Scott Pedder (AUS) Dale Moscatt (AUS), Skoda Fabia R5
Scott Pedder (AUS) Dale Moscatt (AUS), Skoda Fabia R5
Essapeka Lappi (FIN) Janne Ferm (FIN), Skoda Fabia R5 WRC2, Skoda Motorsport
Quentin Gilbert  (FRA) - Renaud Jamoul (BEL) Citroen DS3 R5
Lorenzo Bertelli (ITA)-Simone Scattolin (ITA) Ford Fiesta RS WRC, FWRT
Lorenzo Bertelli (ITA)-Simone Scattolin (ITA) Ford Fiesta RS WRC, FWRT
Teemu Suninen (FIN) - Mikko Markkula (FIN) Skoda Fabia R5, Team Oreca
Nicolás Fuchs (PER) - Fernando Mussano (ARG) Skoda Fabia R5

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