Citroen's Sebastien Loeb leads the Telstra Rally Australia, round ten of the FIA World Rally Championship, after another fascinating day in the stages south of the rally's base in Perth.

The crews faced two loops of four stages plus two more super specials, and the Frenchman held the lead for all but one of those. On SS12 the Xsara WRC driver and Norway's Petter Solberg were inseparable at the top of the leaderboard. Loeb's pace through the second leg has been doubly impressive given that he is only competing on the rally for the second time.

Solberg admitted to a couple of overshoots today, but promised an all-out attack as the rally heads for a final-day showdown in the Sotico forest complex.

Richard Burns remains in third place for Peugeot, while Ford's Markko Martin moved into fourth place. Colin McRae also improved his opening-day position to end leg two in fifth place.

At Citroen the brake problems on Colin McRae's car continued for the first two stages of the day, thereafter his car ran without mechanical problems. The other two Citroens ran without trouble.

Loeb never put a wheel wrong throughout today - and his Xsara never missed a beat. Despite his lack of experience on these roads, he still managed to set four fastest times of the eight forest stages run - the other four went to his main rival Solberg, who headed back to Perth 5.0s behind him.

"Today has been perfect, no problems," noted Loeb, "The car has been great, now it's all about tomorrow - it's going to be a big day!"

Sainz and McRae meanwhile spent the day battling for sixth position with the Scot closing the gap through the morning's four stages. Sainz admitted he wasn't 100 per cent confident in the car's handling, but added that this had nothing to do with his roll last night.

McRae's brakes improved when he wound some of the balance to the rear, he felt the car was better than ever on this rally in stages 13 and 14. In the afternoon McRae passed Sainz and then moved ahead of Makinen as well to head back to Perth in fifth position, despite being concerned about a possible differential problem which was affecting the car's handling and braking. Sainz went off on SS17 after he thought his co-driver called a fourth-gear corner as a sixth-gear bend, the Spaniard ended the day in seventh.

Sainz commented: "The car doesn't feel right at the front, when I'm turning in it's not perfect. On roads like these you really need the confidence in the car. This battle with Colin is nothing new, it's like the thousands that we have had already in our careers. I was lucky when I had the problem with Marc [Marti - my co-driver], it could have been a big accident."

McRae added: "We were still overheating the front brakes on the first two this morning, but after the adjustment to the balance it was okay. As for results, if we're going to get anywhere near the podium, then we have to rely on us having a really good clean run and other people having trouble."

Over at Subaru the gearbox was changed on Tommi Makinen's Subaru Impreza WRC 2003 at the lunchtime service after it started to go into neutral between gear changes. The sister car of Solberg ran without any mechanical problems through the second leg.

Solberg dropped a handful of seconds with two overshoots, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, to end the day just behind Loeb. The Norwegian said his attack had been measured through leg two, but he was ready for maximum attack tomorrow.

Makinen started the leg in fourth place, but came under attack from Martin who was just over five seconds adrift prior to the day's opening stage. Makinen held the place through the four morning stages, but dropped back to fifth on SS15. The Finn admitted to a couple of mistakes early in the first stage after he had forgotten to heat up the new brakes which had been fitted to his Impreza. He ended the day sixth.

Solberg said: "I feel I am in the right place. Sebastien has the pressure of being out front, he has to stay there - I have to take the place away. The car has been good today, no problems - we do have something in reserve for tomorrow."

Makinen commented: "I was doing some experiments this morning, trying out different styles of driving. In the first stage I tried to be a bit more wild and go hard, after that I was a bit calmer. These stages are quite narrow, so I think the calmer style is faster. The car has been handling better today, we haven't had any problems like we had yesterday."

Both Richard Burns and Harri Rovanpera's Peugeot 206 WRCs ran reliably through today's ten stages, while Marcus Gronholm retired prior to the Perth City Super stage last night.

Burns pushed hard on the first stage of the day, posting third quickest time, but when he didn't pull time out of the two drivers ahead he elected to continue at the pace he was happy with. The day ran smoothly for the 2001 world champion, who was much happier running 13 places further back on the road than he had been on the previous day.

Harri Rovanpera was eighth at the start of the day, but lost time to those cars ahead as he struggled to find the maximum motivation after dropping time on leg one when he suffered brake problems and a bad tyre choice for the final two stages last night.

Burns said: "I have been happy with the pace today. We tried on the first one this morning and the time wasn't so fantastic. I haven't felt I've really clicked today, I'm not sure what it was. The two guys ahead are really going hard, but I'm running at a good level - the road condition for me is certainly better than it was yesterday."

Rovanpera noted: "We've found that there has still been some loose gravel around in the stages, which has been quite tricky. On the final stage of the first loop I felt that the engine had just lost its edge. The team looked on the computer but couldn't find anything wrong."

At Ford all three Focus RS WRCs have run without mechanical problems through the second day's ten stages.

Markko Martin admitted he was struggling to find his rhythm on some of the earlier stages, but he moved past Makinen and into fourth place on SS15. The Estonian said his pace notes were still not right, but the problems weren't quite as pronounced on today's stages, which were predominantly faster than those on leg one.

By contrast, his team-mate Francois Duval was feeling more and more at home on the Australian stages. The Belgian started the day 12th, but soon dispatched Skoda driver Didier Auriol and fellow Ford youngster Mikko Hirvonen to move into the top ten. Hirvonen's 2002-specification car sported a damaged front bumper following a twelfth-stage excursion - he concluded the day in eleventh.

Martin noted: "I don't know what it was, but in the third stage this morning I just couldn't get the rhythm at all. It was terrible. This rally really shows that to get the right result you need both the car and the driver to be working well together. Here the car has been great, but the driver hasn't been quite so good."

Duval continued: "I have more confidence today than yesterday. There aren't so many blind corners, so I can listen to the notes and see what's ahead through the bends, this is better. The car has been good, no problems."

Both Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz's Hyundai Accent WRCs suffered handling problems today.

Loix started the day in ninth place and finished up in precisely the same position. The Belgian admitted that he would be relying on those ahead to hit trouble if he was going to venture any further into the top ten.

Schwarz was still struggling to find a comfortable set-up with his Accent. The team had raised the suspension of the car and disconnected the front anti-roll bars, but Schwarz said it remained just as bad. He agreed with the team that he would drive at a safe pace to get to the finish.

Loix noted: "The dampers are overheating and losing their efficiency after a few stages. It's not good, but this is what happens when we don't have any testing before the rallies to try and get these things right."

Schwarz added: "The car is all over the road, very hard to control. It is quite dangerous when we are trying to go quickly, the trees are right at the side of the road. The team want me to get to the finish, which I can understand, because if there is a lot of trouble ahead then I could end up getting a point."

Skoda's Didier Auriol meanwhile was concerned by a problem with the shock absorbers on his Fabia WRC, while Toni Gardemeister's car ran without mechanical problems.

Auriol dropped back two places on the opening loop of stages through the morning, not happy with the handling of his Fabia. While there is little the Frenchman can do about the Ford's of Duval and Hirvonen ahead, he has a comfortable cushion over his team-mate Gardemeister.

The Finn was equally bemused by certain aspects of his car's approach to the slippery Australian stages. Gardemeister says he is not feeling any pain from the broken bone in his right hand, although the muscles in his left arm were a little sore last night - as it's that arm which is doing most of the work to steer the car.

Auriol said: "The car didn't feel right on the first four stages this morning, I was making some adjustments to the car as the morning progressed, but it was not so good."

Gardemeister noted: "The car is sliding from side to side quite a lot, it feels especially nervous at the back end. Partly this is the set-up of the car, but also there is a part of the problem which is down to my arm. When the car is starting to break away and slide, because I'm not using my right arm as much as I would normally, I am not getting the steering input in as quickly as I could be to stop the slide."

Of the other entries Martin Rowe led the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship standings throughout the second day. The British Subaru driver's only problem today was almost going off the road trying to avoid a rock in the middle of the road on SS14.

Rowe is being chased by countryman Niall McShea, who dropped 20 seconds when a rock smashed the rear differential, leaving McShea's Mitsubishi Lancer with only three-wheel drive for the last seven kilometres of SS14. Proton Pert driver Karamjit Singh holds third place overnight. PCWRC leader, Toshi Arai, retired in stage 14, while holding 5th place.

Rally statistics:

Starters: 38 crews (15 Group A and 23 Group N) started this morning.

Top retirements: Arai (J).

Today - Saturday 6 September: Leg 2 started from Perth at 07h30 and covered 515.13km, including 124.00km on ten stages.

Tomorrow - Sunday 7 September: Leg 3 starts from Perth at 07h00 and covers 474.61km, including 117.11km on four stages. The first car is expected to arrive at the finish in Perth at 16h30.

Weather forecast: Sunny with occasional cloud.

Stage by stage summary - Leg 2:

SS11 Beraking East (8.88km):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 5m 09.6
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 5m 10.8
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 5m 13.5

Leaders after SS11:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 1h 29m 03.2
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 1h 29m 05.9
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 1h 29m 45.0

SS12 Helena East 1 (20.49km):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 11m 38.2
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 11m 40.9
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 11m 45.5

Leaders after SS12:
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 1h 40m 44.1
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 1h 40m 44.1
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 1h 41m 30.5

SS13 Helena West 1 (12.60km):
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 7m 18.4
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 7m 21.0
3. McRae (GB) Citroen 7m 24.1

Leaders after SS13:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 1h 48m 02.5
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 1h 48m 05.1
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 1h 48m 55.4

SS14 Helena South 1 (17.31km):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 8m 55.2
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 8m 55.7
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 8m 00.0

Leaders after SS14:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 1h 56m 58.2
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 1h 57m 00.3
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 1h 57m 55.4

SS15 Beraking West (9.42km):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 4m 38.7
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 4m 39.9
3. Martin (EE) Ford 4m 42.3

Leaders after SS15:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 2h 01m 38.1
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 2h 01m 39.2
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 2h 02m 37.9

SS16 Helena East 2 (20.49km):
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 11m 23.8
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 11m 25.4
3. Martin (EE) Ford 11m 30.7

Leaders after SS16:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 2h 13m 01.9
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 2h 13m 04.6
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 2h 14m 10.6

SS17 Helena West 2 (12.60km):
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 7m 10.6
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 7m 10.9
3. Martin (EE) Ford 7m 16.9

Leaders after SS17:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 2h 20m 12.5
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 2h 20m 15.5
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 2h 21m 30.9

SS18 Helena South 2 (17.31km):
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 8m 46.6
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 8m 49.0
3. McRae (GB) Citroen 8m 49.3

Leaders after SS18:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 2h 28m 59.1
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 2h 29m 04.5
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 2h 30m 23.7

SS19 Perth City Super 3 (2.45km):
1. Martin (EE) Ford 1m 31.7
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 1m 32.4
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 1m 32.5

Leaders after SS19:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 2h 30m 31.8
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 2h 30m 37.0
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 2h 31m 57.1

SS20 Perth City Super 4 (2.45km):
1. Martin (EE) Ford 1m 31.7
2. McRae (GB) Citroen 1m 32.3
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 1m 32.6

Leaders after SS20 / Leg 2:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 2h 32m 04.6
2. Solberg (N) Subaru +5.0
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot +1m 25.8
4. Martin (EE) Ford +1m 53.1
5. McRae (GB) Citroen +2m 19.5
6. Makinen (FIN) Subaru +2m 20.9
7. Sainz (E) Citroen +2m 26.8
8. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot +2m 54.2
9. Loix (B) Hyundai +5m 17.8
10. Duval (B) Ford +5m 51.1



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