Marcus Gronholm closed in on his second win in succession in Sweden on Saturday, after dominant display in his Ford Focus WRC, which left all his rivals trailing.

Although Gronholm lost out in the first test and had to settle for second best, something that allowed Sebastien Loeb to cut his advantage by 1.2 seconds, the Finn was back on it in SS10, the 34.54 kilometre Liljendal stage to ensure the damage was only minimal. Indeed Gronholm's overnight cushion went down from just 11.1 seconds to 10.5.

The second loop though was to prove the decisive one and Gronholm managed to more than double his advantage, 7.6 seconds quicker than anyone else in Torntorp 2 and 6.8 seconds better in Vargasen 2. As such he headed back to the mid-day service area at Hagfors with a 27.6 second advantage over Loeb, who had to settle for the fourth and third best times in the same stages.

In the afternoon, Marcus dealt what could well turn out to be the killer blow, adding two more stages wins to his tally and further stretching his lead. Following the second run through the Hagfors Sprint, the 39-year-old finished the leg 38.4 seconds in front, something that gives him a comfortable margin ahead of the final day on Sunday and the remaining 86 competitive kilometres, which is spread over five tests.

Loeb for his part, had no answer to Gronholm's pace and while he matched him on the first loop, a bad tyre choice on the second cost him dear and the Frenchman eased off in the final three tests, seemingly content to settle for the runners-up spot and the eight points that goes with it.

Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile now lies third, having recovered from the power steering problems on day one, which cost him time on the first three stages. Mikko was right up there throughout the second leg, consistently setting top five times, to overhaul Henning Solberg and to stay in front of Toni Gardemeister. With both of his rivals slipping back on the third loop the Finn will take a 30-odd second 'lead' into the final leg, something that should ensure him of his first podium finish of the year.

Henning for his part was keeping Mikko honest for much of the day, until a spin in the penultimate test, when he was blinded by the sun, cost him around 10-12 seconds.

Gardemeister also suffered in the same test, the 26.47 kilometre Lejen stage, when mechanical problems cost him around 2 minutes. Early reports suggest the Mitsubishi man had driveshaft issues, but whatever it was, it cost the Finn considerable time and dropped him from being in the battle for third, to eighth, just 10 seconds or so off Stobart Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala, who is running ninth.

Gardemeister's misfortune though benefited Daniel Carlsson, Chris Atkinson and Manfred Stohl and each gained a place, moving up to fifth, sixth and seventh respectively.

Carlsson finished the leg just 8.7 seconds up on Atkinson's Subaru, the Aussie having cut some of the deficit but not much. Both drivers' had a pretty uneventful day, although Carlsson, who is making his debut with the Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC, did have gearshift problems in SS13.

Stohl, who lost a place to Atkinson on the first test of the day, has slipped further and further back from the Impreza and his OMV team-mate. The Austrian has been plagued with brake problems and it wasn't until near the end of the day that he reckoned the issues had been solved. He will certainly need to be on it on Sunday, with Gardemeister just 1.8 seconds adrift.

Further-down the leader-board, Mads Ostberg completes the top ten in his Adapta-run Subaru Impreza. The Norwegian ended the day with something of a flourish, when he topped the times in the Hagfors Sprint super special - his first stage win in the WRC - something that put him back into the top ten, albeit, only 0.7 seconds up on Jan Kopecky's Skoda Fabia.

Of the rest, Patrik Flodin and Thomas Schie are eleventh and twelfth, followed by Stobart's Matthew Wilson, Munchi's Luis-Perez Companc and Citroen's Daniel Sordo. Sordo made up ground during the second leg, after his off in the first proper test, but the Spaniard is going to struggle to get much out of this event, unless one of the manufacturer crews in front retire. If that happens he should be able to take the final manufacturers' point for Citroen.

After Sordo, Gigi Galli is next up, 20 seconds or so further adrift, like Dani, Gigi is paying the price for an error on day one, which cost him around 4 minutes.

In the Production Car WRC category, Kristian Sohlberg led for most of the day, successfully defending the top spot, despite coming under pressure from Juho Hanninen. Hanninen dropped back a bit this morning after a minor off in SS10, however, he came back in the second and third loops, winning four tests from a possible five, something that has put him into the lead. Hanninen will go into the final day 6.9 seconds in front.

Oscar Svedlund completes the Production podium, after Anton Alen made a mistake in SS11 and lost nearly 2 minutes. Alen ended the leg in fourth, 2mins 17.1secs back, while Mirco Baldacci and Araujo Armindo round out the PWRC top six.

In terms of retirees, Petter Solberg was the only 'big' name to go out on day two, joining former Kronos Citroen driver, Xavier Pons, who retired on Friday after going off the road. Petter went off in SS10 and lost around 14 minutes after he got stuck in a ditch. Although the Norwegian managed to continue and completed SS11 and SS12, the team opted to withdraw him in service F to preserve his car for the next event, the Rally Norway.

The event now concludes on Sunday. The final day is the shortest of the event, covering 86.32km of competition. After leaving Karlstad at 06.30, drivers tackle two loops of two identical stages close to the Hagfors service park. They then return to the rally base for a repeat of the spectacular super special stage which began the event on Thursday evening.


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