The day's stages started dramatically, with Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm crashing out of the rally only three kilometres into the day's first special stage (SS10, Beraking). The Finn's demise led Citroen team boss, Guy Frequelin, to instruct Sebastien Loeb to drive conservatively now he had inherited the rally lead. The remaining WRC drivers, Harri Rovanpera, Francois Duval and Mikko Hirvonen performed consistently with no major problems and ended the day with second to fourth overall respectively. The Production Cup category was not without drama. Current category leader, Jani Paasonen, suffered a bad puncture early on, and dropped seven outright places, handing Alistair McRae a huge buffer in the fight for Production Cup honours. McRae was undertaking a calculated drive and ignoring the Australians jostling around him in a bid to mix stage times with their international Group N rivals. The rally action continues tomorrow with two stages around Chidlow and four long and spectacular stages in the Sotico (Wespine) complex south east of Perth, before returning to the city for a Kings Park ceremonial finish against the city skyline.
As clear leaders at the end of the second leg, the Xsara WRC crew Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena this evening enjoy a cushion of 1m 20.5s over Harri Rovanpera and 2m 30.0s over Francois Duval.
Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "I am really disappointed for Marcus. It's very frustrating. I had hoped for a good, long fight, as exciting as my scrap with Petter Solberg last year.
Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: Did not start
Subaru driver Mikko Hirvonen put in a solid performance at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRC2004 today, to move up the leaderboard and finish the day in fourth place. With six stages remaining on tomorrow's final Leg, the young Finn is on course to match his career-best WRC finish. Re-starting the event after his retirement on Leg one, Petter Solberg demonstrated the leading pace of his Impreza by winning five of today's eight forest stages.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "It's been a good day, the car has felt strong and we made a couple of adjustments in the service before SS15 that really made another positive step. For sure, I'm not attacking the stages as I would if I was still fighting for the win, but it's still good fun out there, I like these conditions a lot and by re-starting we can still put on a show for the spectators."
Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: "There were no mistakes and no major problems with the car. The set-up wasn't great in the morning, but we've been experimenting with roll bars, damper settings and springs and now it's getting better and is nice to drive. There's been a lot of loose gravel on the road and running second certainly hasn't helped. For tomorrow, I'm sure the situation with running positions will be much the same. I'll be one of the first through so will be cleaning the road again, but I like tomorrow's stages. They're even faster than today's and a little bit wider so you can go sideways more. I think it will be good fun."
Ford World Rally Team drivers Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot are on course to score the team's 14th podium finish of the season after climbing to third during today's second leg of Rally Australia. The Belgian duo stayed faithful to their policy of taking no risks over the tricky gravel tracks in Western Australia and will start tomorrow's final day in a comfortable position in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car.
Markko Martin / Michael Park: Retired with engine problem
Francios Duval / Stephane Prevot: "Starting the stages third wasn't so easy. There was a lot of gravel on the surface so I didn't get a clean line. It was especially tricky in the braking areas. When we used stages for a second time it wasn't such a problem because the gravel had been swept clear during the first pass.
I'm not driving anywhere near maximum pace because there is no point in pushing hard. I could end up going off the road and I don't have any chance of catching the drivers in front. I'm happy with the position I've got. It's a really difficult rally, with plenty of trees close to the edge of the road, so I'm not taking risks. I prefer it when conditions are dry because the roads aren't as slippery, so today has been a little easier then yesterday.
Peugeot driver Harri Rovanpera has ended leg two of the Rally Australia in second place, after a fast and reliable run in his 307 WRC. Unfortunately, his team mate Marcus Gronholm was forced to retire from the lead, having dominated the action on leg one. Marcus started this morning with a lead of 20 seconds, having driven quickly and reliably over the opening leg. But he was forced to retire from his winning position just three kilometres into the opening stage this morning after going off on a left-hand corner.
Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "We came into the corner with normal speed, but the ruts were much deeper than they had been yesterday, and the car started to slide on the sump guard. This put us into a 360-degree spin and we hit the front and the back of the car against a tree. I tried to start the engine, but after the impact there was something rubbing against the alternator belt, so the engine would not restart. Finally we managed to get it going again, but it was too late. It was a real pity as the speed and the reliability of the car has been perfect. We just needed a bit more ride height to get through that corner."
Harri Rovanpera / Risto Pietilainen: "Everything is going very well so far. We had no problems at all apart from the off on the second stage which maybe cost us about 10 seconds. The car is feeling good and I am quite confident. We are second now and although the gap to the front is quite big there is still a long way to go and anything can happen. The important thing is that the car has been fast and reliable, which is a very good sign for the future."
The current weather forecast for Perth over the rally weekend is for light showers clearing on Friday and mostly sunny conditions in the low 20's during the event. If the cooler weather of the week clears earlier temperatures up to 30 degrees may be experienced.