Subaru's Norwegian hotshot Petter Solberg was in the thick of the action today [Saturday], as he and fellow WRC youngster Sebastien Loeb tussled for the lead of the Telstra Rally Australia.

The pair were inseparable for much of the leg, each claiming four forest stage wins and pulling clear of the chasing pack. Loeb's advantage at the start of the day was a slender 3.9 sec, and tonight, 124 km later it is just 5.0 secs - roughly equivalent to a 50-metre head start going into tomorrow's final 117km.

Solberg maintains he still has plenty in reserve for the final day, and is keenly anticipating the rain that's forecast tonight.

"I'm very happy with today, it's really been perfect and we're in a good position going into a very big day tomorrow," said 'Hollywood', "We're on the hunt, and I think that puts more pressure on Sebastien than me.

"We've not been on the limit today and tomorrow we can go to the extra level. I have nothing to worry about at all with the car and the tyres, I had extra in Finland and I have extra ready for tomorrow. I will never give up, I need points, and a lot of them."

Starting the leg in fourth place, team-mate Tommi Makinen meanwhile was unlucky to lose some time after his car clipped a bank and collected suspension damage. But ahead of the final stages the Finn is also locked in a thrilling points battle, as he fights with Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae for fifth.

"It was going very well until a hairpin left on SS16," noted the Finn, "We were doing only about 40kph when we hit the sandbank and damaged the right-rear suspension. You can't drive at 100 per cent with a damaged car, and we must have lost at least 10 seconds on each of the remaining stages. It's a shame we're now sixth and not fourth, but we hope the weather predictions for tomorrow are right. It's a long day tomorrow, I like those stages and will try to gain it back."

David Lapworth, Subaru World Rally team principal, added: "It's been a fascinating game of cat and mouse. Petter and Sebastien have traded times all day and the gap has never varied by more than a couple of seconds. Tommi is locked in a battle for fifth and there is an equally tight chase between Colin, Tommi and Carlos. We are expecting the weather to change and become quite unpredictable so it will be nail-biting stuff tomorrow."

The final leg of Rally Australia starts tomorrow from Perth City Parc Ferme. The first car will leave at 0700hrs and head to the central service at Jarrahdale, before travelling 50km southeast to the legendary Bannister stages, based in the Sotico pine plantations. Competitors will contest four more stages and a total of 117 competitive kilometres.

Included tomorrow are the famous Bunnings jumps where last year the Subaru Impreza WRC's jumped two metres off the ground and flew 50 metres through the air. The first stage is due to start at 0906hrs.



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