Sebastien Loeb strengthened his stranglehold on the Rally RACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada this morning, increasing his overnight advantage from 15.8 seconds to 23.7 seconds.

Loeb, who won all the stages on day 1, was again dominant and he completed the opening test - the 38.27 kilometre-run through El Priorat, the longest of the event, in 21 minutes 30.9 seconds, 1.4 seconds up on Francois Duval, who was 'best of the rest'.

The Frenchman then set the pace again in SS8 and SS9, 2.6 seconds up on his team-mate Dani Sordo in Les Garrigues and 2.9 seconds in front of the Spaniard in La Llena.

"Our morning went perfectly. I was careful with my tyres during the early part of the long stage, and then upped my pace towards the end. That meant they were still strong on the next two tests," said the four-time world champion.

"I am very pleased with the balance and set-up of my car. Today's first three stages have enabled us to increase our lead slightly, so that's very positive. It's still too early to be thinking in terms of lifting. There is still much too far to go for that. We'll have a clearer picture this evening."

Sordo meanwhile remains second and the gap between him and BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Francois Duval is more or less the same as it was prior to the loop, the two still split by around 25 seconds.

"I was at maximum attack this morning and I will stay at that pace to try to catch Dani," Duval vowed. "The roads are twistier today and I like that, so I think that's why my times are closer to Dani than they were yesterday. The car still feels good, although there is small understeer in long corners. There was a lot of dirt on the road in the final stage which made it slippery."

Mikko Hirvonen completes the top four, but the Finn has lost ground to Duval and saw the margin go up from 2.8 seconds to 11.2 seconds going into service D at PortAventura.

"We changed the rear differential in service this morning which brought an improvement on the high-speed sections, but it also made the car more difficult to drive so there is still work to do. I have more pace and my times are closer to Loeb and Sordo, but I don't have the killer feeling that I need to challenge because I'm not 100 per cent confident," he explained.

"It's frustrating that I can't find something to get even closer to Loeb. It has been a while since I struggled with car set-up. I'm going to mover closer to Francois' set-up here at service and see what effect that has on the afternoon stages."

Further down the order the battle for P5 remains reasonably tight, although Petter Solberg still holds the position, 9.8 seconds ahead of Urmo Aava's privately entered C4 WRC, who is sandwiched between Hollywood's Impreza WRC2008 and the sister car of Chris Atkinson.

"This morning we were fast in the fast sections but struggled for grip in the twisty places," said Petter. "The last stage this morning was so dirty as the cars in front take huge cuts in the corners. There are bollards to stop this on some corners, but there are so many corners they can't do it on every one. On the loose stages the feeling isn't there yet to push hard. We're trying some different things and just doing what we can."

Atkinson meanwhile 'passed' Jari-Matti Latvala on the opening test and was quicker than the Finn in SS8 too. However Jari fought back in SS9 and now just 0.4 seconds splits the two.

"I think we need to go back to the settings we had yesterday as the changes we made last night aren't working as well as I hoped," Latvala said. "We changed the springs on the car and it keeps moving around too much but apart from that we have had no real problems so just need to try and get some of the time back from this morning."

Of the rest, Andreas Mikkelsen and Matthew Wilson round out the top ten followed by Conrad Rautenbach, Brice Tirabassi and the two Munchi's Ford WRT cars of Federico Villagra and Henning Solberg.

"The car feels really good on the old, abrasive sections of the road but we are just still working to refine things on the smooth roads as the car is still moving about too much," said Wilson Jr.

"The last stage felt really good and I was very happy with my split times. In service now we are planning to make a slight adjustment to the diff setting and get a better balance coming out of the corners."

Toni Gardemeister is 15th and the lead Suzuki SX4 WRC after Per-Gunnar Andersson retired on day 1. P-G re-started today under the SupeRally along with BP Ford Abu Dhabi 'third' driver Khalid Al Qassimi.

In the Junior World Rally Championship category, Sebastien Ogier continues to lead and he was fastest in all three stages this morning. Ogier now lies 1 minute 10 seconds up on Martin Prokop, with Alessandro Bettega third.

Aaron Burkart and Shaun Gallagher are fourth and fifth, both moving up a place thanks to Michal Kosciuszko's mechanical issues in SS9, which cost him over 9 minutes and dropped him right down the JWRC classification.

The action now resumes at 13.47 hours local time, when all three of this morning's tests will be repeated to conclude the second day.



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