Citroen number one driver Sebastien Loeb has concluded day two of Rally New Zealand in the lead following a good scrap with his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen.

Loeb began the second day with a 4 second advantage and initially he increased that to 8.5 seconds following SS9 and SS10. However Hirvonen closed up on the next test and slashed the Frenchman's lead to just 1.7 seconds.

After the mid-day halt, Loeb struck back, winning the first two stages and stretching the margin back to almost 8 seconds after SS14. Then, while Hirvonen was again quickest in the repeat-run through Girls High School, Loeb only lost 1.5 seconds and as a result he will now take a 6.4 second cushion into the final day.

"We've had a good battle with Mikko today," said Loeb. "It's been difficult this afternoon, very slippery and I really don't like that Girls High School stage. It's very technical and I lost about eight seconds there this morning. It's exciting to have a battle with Mikko and tomorrow I will have to push to keep him behind."

Behind, Petter Solberg moved up into third in the first stage today and he has now consolidated that position, although he remains over 90 seconds off the lead.

"We set good stage times throughout the day without any crazy attacking," Solberg said. "I simply kept a steady pace to stay in touch with those in front, because there was nothing to win and plenty to lose. The roads were more slippery and muddy than we expected this afternoon, and drier than we anticipated this morning.

"We have six good soft tyres left for tomorrow, but it we are to have any chance at all of catching those in front then we need proper rain. We need to be lucky so perhaps I should make a rain dance tonight! We'll look at the situation after the opening stage but we're not going to take the level of risk that we did at the last round in Greece, because a podium is important for Ford."

M-Sport Ford duo Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tanak are next up in fourth and fifth, the latter losing ten seconds with a spin in SS14.

"We have had a good day, but and I haven't been pushing 100 per cent. I took it a little steadier over the morning loop - which is where Petter passed me - but I am confident that I could have pushed a lot harder in some of those stages," Novikov commented.

"We set some good times in the first half of the afternoon too, but I backed right off for the last two [stages] as they are quite tricky. Now tomorrow is all about being sensible and keeping our fourth place."

"We have had a good day and set some good times," Tanak added. "For us, this event is all about making it to the end so it is good to see that our times are still there without being totally flat out and on the limit.

"On SS14 we had a spin going into a fast right-hander which cost us about 10 seconds, but I am happy with our pace and feeling comfortable in the car so tomorrow we can look to push a little bit more."

Thierry Neuville meanwhile rounds out the top six in his Citroen DS3 WRC car, 20 seconds or so off Tanak and a similar amount up on Prodrive MINI man, Dani Sordo in seventh.

"Today was better than yesterday, but this morning the stages were new and I didn't get a good feeling for them," Sordo stated. "This afternoon was much better and I was able to fight a little more so I am a little more happy. On the last stage I think I lost maybe four or five seconds when I was blinded by the low sun so it could have been even better. The car is running really, really well and tomorrow I will push. I have soft Michelin tyres so we will see what we can do."

Of the rest Jari-Matti Latvala has moved up from ninth to eighth, but after losing more than four minutes yesterday, is still over 1.5 minutes off P7.

"It's difficult to see how I can move higher with big time gaps to those ahead," said Latvala. "I wasn't fighting with anyone, but concentrating more on the car's set-up. Yesterday I didn't have a perfect feeling with the car but we made a few set-up changes overnight and some more today. The feeling is coming back and I'm happy with the improvements."

Arminado Araujo and Ken Block complete the provisional points' scorers, followed by Manfred Stohl, Haydon Paddon, Jari Ketomaa, Richard Mason, Emma Gilmour, Matt Jansen, Marcos Ligato and Paulo Nobre in positions 11 through to 18. Paddon and Ligato incidentally, continue to lead the SWRC and PWRC respectively.

Rally New Zealand now concludes on Sunday and the final leg is based just north of Auckland and is the shortest of the weekend. Drivers restart at 06.40 and face two loops of stages, including two passes over the asphalt roads at the city's War Memorial Museum. The finish is on the city's waterfront at 15.30 after seven stages covering 61.33km [all times local].

Rally New Zealand: Overall standings after Stage 15 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien LoebCitroen Total WRT DS3 WRC3hours 27mins 51.9secs M
2. Mikko HirvonenCitroen Total WRT DS3 WRC+00mins 06.4secs M
3. Petter SolbergFord WRT Fiesta RS WRC+01mins 33.3secs M
4. Evgeny NovikovM-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC+02mins 02.5secs M
5. Ott TanakM-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 23.8secs M
6. Thierry Neuville Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC+02mins 47.2secs M
7. Dani SordoProdrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC +03mins 05.9secs
8. Jari-Matti LatvalaFord WRT Fiesta RS WRC+04mins 58.0secs M
9. Armindo Araujo WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +08mins 21.1secs
10. Ken BlockMonster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC+09mins 07.6secs


11. Manfred StohlBrazil WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC+10mins 19.4s M
12. Hayden PaddonSkoda Fabia S2000+10mins 45.9secs S
13. Jari KetomaaFord Fiesta RS WRC+11mins 41.7s
14. Richard MasonSubaru Impreza WRX STi+14mins 03.6secs
17. Marcos LigatoSubaru Impreza WRX STi+25mins 57.2secs P
18. Paulo Nobre WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +27mins 47.7secs

SWRC standings after Stage 15 - Top 3:

1. Hayden PaddonSkoda Fabia S20003hours 38mins 37.8secs S
2. Per-Gunnar Andersson Proton Satria Neo S2000+36mins 12.0secs S
3. Maciej OleksowiczFord Fiesta S2000+43mins 37.1secs

PWRC standings after Stage 15 - Top 3:

1. Marcos LigatoSubaru Impreza WRX STi3hours 53mins 49.1secs P
2. Subhan AksaMitsubishi Lancer Evo X+05mins 38.7secs P
3. Ricardo TrivinoMitsubishi Lancer Evo IX+05mins 55.1secs P

Notable retirements:

DNS. Henning SolbergFord Fiesta RS WRCListed on the entry list, but did not make the trip out to NZ

SS3. Per-Gunnar AnderssonProton Satria Neo S2000Went off the road S*
SS4. Alister McRaeProton Satria Neo S2000Mechanical problem S*

SS11. Lorenzo BertelliSubaru Impreza WRX STiWent off the road P
SS11/SS12 Alister McRaeProton Satria Neo S2000Unknown S
SS15. Per-Gunnar AnderssonProton Satria Neo S2000Lost a wheel S
SS15. Alexey KikireshkoMitsubishi Lancer Evo IXMechanical P
SS15. Ramona KarlssonMitsubishi Lancer Evo XFire P

* denotes re-started under Rally 2

all times unofficial



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