Esapekka Lappi can make it two wins out of two on Switzerland's round of the FIA European Rally Championship - providing he makes it through Saturday's longest leg unscathed in his Skoda Motorsport Fabia Super 2000.

Lappi, one of four drivers in ERC title contention, holds a 23-second lead after 11 stages in the spectacular Swiss mountains. But with eight stages over a competitive distance of 135.62 kilometres remaining, the battle for ERC glory on Rallye International du Valais is far from over.

"We are leading and that's very good but it's still a long way to go and there are some gravel sections tomorrow," said Lappi, who started the event in Sion yesterday with a 19-point title advantage. "The car has been working perfectly with no problems and the set-up and feeling are good. We are not driving in full attack so it's okay."

Lappi began day two trailing Michelin-shod team-mate Sepp Wiegand by 4.4s but capitalised on the German rookie's lack of stage knowledge and struggles to find a consistent rhythm during the morning loop to move into top spot. And it would get worse for Wiegand when a front-left puncture on stage 10 dropped him outside of the podium places.

"One positive thing is we were able to drive on top in the European championship and show our speed," said Wiegand, who is 1m16.2s behind Lappi in fourth overall. "The puncture was bad luck because it has dropped us down when we had the speed to be in the top."

Kajetan Kajetanowicz is a strong second for the LOTOS Rally Team following an impressive display on his Valais debut. The Pole has only been out of the top three stage positions on two occasions today and was fastest of all on stage nine in his Pirelli-equipped Ford Fiesta R5. He's 23.0s adrift of Lappi in second place with Craig Breen a fine third for Peugeot Rally Academy.

The Irishman, who like Lappi, Kajetanowicz and Wiegand can still win the ERC title, began day two in 20th position following a time-consuming puncture on Thursday's closing test. But a succession of fastest stage times has enabled the 208T16 driver to fight back up to third place, despite a minor handbrake issue in the afternoon. However, it was a day to forget for his team-mate Kevin Abbring who dropped out of third place prior to Friday's opening test with a mechanical failure.

"We retired before the first stage today on the road section," Abbring explained. "We had some brake issues on the last stage yesterday. We tested the clutch afterwards and it was strong enough but something is wrong with the clutch now. We had some issues starting the car this morning and the focus was on the engine. We don't know if the brake issue caused the clutch problem."

Meanwhile, Swiss champion S?bastien Carron is the top local driver in fifth with compatriot Jonathan Hirschi in sixth. Robert Consani is on course for a useful haul of ERC points in seventh following an encouraging display. Olivier Burri is eighth after dropping time with an overshoot and stall on the first run through the Caserne superspecial. Jaromir Tarabus is ninth with Nicolas Althaus 10th.

Florian Gonon leads the ERC Production Car Cup section after overnight leader Mark Higgins was forced to retire with driveshaft failure on his JRM Subaru WRX STI this morning. Laurent Reuche is the man to beat in ERC 2WD in his Renault Clio R3T, while Andrea Crugnola remains in charge in ERC Junior despite reporting an engine issue on Friday's closing brace of stages.



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