Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has increased his advantage on Rally Norway following Saturday's opening loop.

The Frenchman began the day with a 2.6 second cushion over Mikko Hirvonen and he then proceeded to stretch it by another 0.7 seconds in SS10, 2.8 seconds in SS11 and 3.3 seconds in SS12.

Seb eventually returned to the mid-day halt, following the short Hamar 1.15 km super special, with a 10.7 second lead: "It was perfect for me this morning," said the five-time world champion. "We have done all the best times.

"The road position made no difference, it's a really good fight, I am going flat out but the time is about the same as Mikko. There was just 0.7 seconds between us in the first test, but finally now we have a 10 second lead.

"It was really good. I know the road conditions will be more difficult in the afternoon. I will try my best."

Hirvonen meanwhile, who purposely slowed in the final stage on Friday to ensure he had a better road position, was disappointed not to have been able to re-claim the initiative.

The Finn is hopeful however, that his gamble last night will pay off more on the repeat runs.

"We've both been driving at a crazy speed this morning. The grip is consistent and it's fantastic to drive in these conditions. It's an amazing fight, and while I don't enjoy being second, I'm loving this contest. I've not had problems, he's just been faster than me," conceded the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team leader.

"It will be difficult this afternoon because I must take more risks, but I can see his driving lines in the snow and we're both right on the limit already. But I can't let him run away, otherwise it will be difficult tomorrow."

Jari-Matti Latvala remains third, but he has been unable to close the gap to the two in front. Indeed he is now almost 40 seconds back, although on the plus side the gap to Dani Sordo in fourth has also increased and the two are separated by 1 minute 36.9 seconds.

Further down the order, Henning Solberg has made up two places and hauled himself up from seventh to fifth, while his brother Petter now lies sixth in his privateer Citroen Xsara WRC.

"The stages are very good to drive today and I've been enjoying being out there and pushing hard," said Henning. "It's been a good morning but I still think we can go faster. The battle with Petter has been fun and I'm very happy to be ahead at this moment. Moving up two places already this morning is very encouraging."

"I have had a bit of a trouble this morning," Petter explained. "It sticks open a bit when we come to corners so that has been a little bit scary for these three stages. I am still trying to attack though."

Matthew Wilson and Urmo Aava round out the top eight in the sister Stobart Fords, the former around 50 seconds off the battling Solberg's and a similar amount up on Urmo.

"The conditions are amazing out there," said Wilson. "The first stage was just perfect for snow rallying. We probably didn't start the day as fast as we could, but the car felt really good and the grip was great. The only issue I had was the loss of feeling with the brake pedal which meant it was difficult to feel the bite point on the high speed sections."

Of the rest Mads ?stberg and Conrad Rautenbach are ninth and tenth, followed by Sebastien Ogier, PWRC leader, Patrik Sandell and then Evgeny Novikov and Eyvind Brynildsen.

Ogier and Novikov both had issues this morning and picked up penalties, which dropped them down the leaderboard. Ogier was particularly badly effected as he had been running ninth and in front of Aava post-SS9.

In the Production Car World Rally Championship category, Sandell remains in P1, a position he has held from the very start. The Swede is 1 minute 51.8 seconds up on Brynildsen, while Martin Prokop lies third, just 1.5 seconds ahead of Armindo Araujo. Andreas Mikkelsen rounds out the P-WRC top five.

As for retirements, the biggest casualty was ex-Suzuki WRT man P-G Andersson, who saw his fantastic run in his Skoda Fabia WRC end before SS13. P-G had been up in sixth, just 7.6 seconds behind Henning Solberg, when clutch problems forced him out.

The action now continues at 13.15 hours local time, when all four of this morning's tests will be repeated to conclude the second leg.



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