Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) rued a poor tyre choice for the middle group of stages and the Frenchman admitted he had given up hope of catching Gronholm and would be happy to settle for second. Behind Hirvonen, Henning Solberg (Ford) lost almost 20sec when he was blinded by sunshine and spun on the penultimate stage. Toni Gardemeister (Mitsubishi) held fifth until driveshaft problems on the penultimate stage cost almost two minutes and he slipped to eighth. Daniel Carlsson (Mitsubishi) and Chris Atkinson (Subaru) completed the top six, the Australian moving ahead of Manfred Stohl (Citroen) this morning when the Austrian suffered brake problems. Petter Solberg (Subaru) lost third when the Norwegian drove into a ditch on the second stage and it took spectators almost 14 minutes to lift the car back onto the road. He continued for two more stages but then retired to preserve his car for next week's Rally Norway.
Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen dominated today's second leg of the Swedish Rally to build a comfortable lead in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. The BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers won five of the seven snow and ice-bound speed tests to extend their first leg advantage over Sebastien Loeb from 11.1sec to 38.4sec, with just one day of this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship remaining. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen also enjoyed a successful day in their similar Focus RS. The Finns climbed from fifth to third and eased away from closest rival Henning Solberg to return to the rally base in Karlstad for the final overnight halt with a 27.3sec advantage over the Norwegian.
Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "It was a perfect day. We made good tyre choices because in some places the conditions weren't easy. I lost a couple of seconds on the short final stage when I stalled the engine in a corner but that was the only thing that went wrong. Tomorrow's plan is simple - to make no mistakes and to try to stay in front."
Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "Today was really enjoyable with fantastic road conditions. The car felt perfect so it is up to me now. I had a good battle with Henning and Toni and when I knew that Henning had a problem on the penultimate stage, I slowed a little because I didn't want to do anything stupid. This morning I couldn't have driven much harder. I was at a good speed but I didn't want to take risks. I need to concentrate 100 per cent tomorrow so as not to make any mistakes."
With five of the 2007 Swedish Rally's twenty scheduled stages remaining, the Citroen C4 WRC of Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are currently in 2nd place. Their Citroen Sport team-mates Dani Sordo and Marc Marti reached this evening's service park in Hagfors in 16th position. Today's programme featured a menu of more than 140km of competitive action, making it the longest leg of the rally. Three of the seven stages were repeats of yesterday's tests, while the other four were contested for the first time this weekend.
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "The day started really well. But then it got complicated. As soon as I heard the first split times during SS11, I realised we were in trouble. The ice gave plenty of grip but my long studs meant I was moving about too much and I didn't have the precision I needed. I tried to concentrate during the following stage but all I could do again was try not lose too much time."
Dani Sordo/Marc Marti: "This is only my second time here. Last year I found it difficult and I wasn't a very happy person. This time, it's still tough but I've got a smile on may face! I feel I'm improving but I still learnt so much today. My notes are good but I need more confidence. It really isn't easy to take onboard the high speeds you can get reach on the ice!"
Chris Atkinson is heading the Subaru World Rally Team's campaign. The young Australian reprised his level-headed performance on last month's Rallye Monte Carlo with another consistent display and vaulted from ninth to sixth in the overall standings. He ended the day just 8.6sec behind fifth-placed Daniel Carlsson, with five stages left to run tomorrow. There was disappointment for Petter Solberg, who got stuck in a ditch on SS10 and lost almost 14 minutes. With no chance of clawing his way back into the points, the team opted to withdraw Petter from the rally and conserve his car for next week's Rally Norway.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "I'm very disappointed about what has happened, and I'm really sorry to the supporters who were out on the stages for us. It was good to be fighting back near the top and I'd have liked to have carried that fight on tomorrow, but unfortunately losing 14 minutes meant there was no chance. So, we have to look forward, and that means preparing for Norway. It's my home rally and I'm going to try my best to get a much better result."
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "It's been a productive day for us and our strategy has paid off. We've run at a pace that we're comfortable with, rather than try to be too ambitious and push too hard. We're just 8.6sec behind Daniel [Carlsson] going into the final leg, but it will be tough to beat him because this is his home event and remember he finished third here last year. We've been evenly matched with him all day. I think our choice of BFGoodrich tyres gave us a slight advantage this afternoon, but if we both choose the same tyres tomorrow it'll be very hard to make up that time. Still, we're on course to achieve our objective of a top-six finish and if I end tomorrow in fifth or sixth place, I'll be happy."
OMV Kronos Citroen
Both drivers of the OMV Kronos Citroen World Rally Team moved up one place each during the second leg of the Swedish Rally. Daniel Carlsson lies in fifth place and at least wants to defend this position against Subaru works driver Chris Atkinson.
Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "Gardemeister is only 1.4 seconds behind and my lead on Latvala is only 10.8 seconds. So this promises to be a hot Sunday for me despite the cold."
Daniel Carlsson/Denis Giraudet: "Of course, I will try everything to repeat last year's third place," said Carlsson. "But this is no easy task with the new car. Still, we are getting along quite well already and have achieved some satisfying times. Since we are already over one minute behind fourth place we will focus on the in-fight with Chris. This means that we will have to give at least 100 percent on Sunday."
Stobart M-Sport Ford
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team crew Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud will head into leg 3 in forth position more than one minute ahead of fifth placed Daniel Carlsson. Also looking to add points to their name is the Finnish crew of Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila who lie in ninth position just 9.2 seconds away from a championship point.
Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila: "This morning I was cutting a bit too much and we lost a few studs so I had trouble finding the grip which was difficult on my confidence. A light in the car came on during stage 10 and I was worried about the alternator so we had to turn a few switches off which lost us some time. This is the first time I can smile in this rally! (after SS11) We played with the set-up of the car during morning service and the feeling is much better. I really felt like I could drive to my full potential and the car is starting to work really well for me. I will push tomorrow as the car is feeling really good now."
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "We were slightly slow this morning but the second stage went really well apart from a little slide on the final corner which lost us a few seconds. It was the same corner where my brother (Petter) went off a few years ago and I remember coming up to the corner thinking - I need to be careful here - and the next minute I was in the snow. Today was new stages for everybody and it is very easy to come off the road I promise you. The low sun caught my eyes in stage 14 and I couldn't see anything and had a spin. The car is really great, the tyres are good, co-drivers good, everything is working well so we will see what happens tomorrow."
Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "There's still a lot of loose snow on the roads which made things a bit unsteady and it was hard to find the grip but still it felt much better today. Stages 11 and 12 were much better for me and probably the nicest stages of the rally so far. I slightly changed my braking technique today and it seemed to settle the car a lot better. I'm looking forward to tomorrow, the long stages are quite nice so it should be good. Otherwise everything's feeling ok, the car is working really well and I'm just going to take it steady and learn more about this tricky surface by finishing the rally."