Frenchman Sebastien Loeb capitalised on world champion Marcus Gronholm's withdrawal to storm into the lead on the second day of Rally Australia.
Loeb won three of Friday's nine stages
Gronholm feared his title hopes were over after plunging his
Peugeot into a ditch.
Citroen's Loeb won three and tied another of Friday's nine
stages to lead Subaru's Norwegian Petter Solberg by 3.9 seconds.
Britain's championship leader Richard Burns was third
overall in a Peugeot, 39.1 seconds behind, with Finland's Tommi
Makinen fourth for Subaru.
Gronholm had led by 16 seconds after the first seven stages
before disaster struck.
The flying Finn blew his chances of a fourth Australian
title when he slid into a ditch coming out of a hairpin on the
The car was not badly damaged but he spent 16 minutes
getting it back on the road and did not take part in the day's
"It was very stupid, I am so annoyed," Gronholm said.
"I have never done anything like this before. It is not good for the championship. Maybe we have lost it. I think so."
Gronholm won the first two stages of the day but Loeb began
to close the gap when he took the fifth and sixth stages in the
forests around Perth.
Loeb took over at the front when he and Solberg dead-heated
on the eighth stage and then stretched his lead by winning the
penultimate stage of the day.
Belgian Francois Duval won the 2.45 km super-special for
"The car is going very well and I have a good feeling," said
Loeb, who won this year's Monte Carlo and Germany rallies to
reach fourth place in the championship.
"We have a big fight with Petter now, so we will try to push
as much as possible and to stay on the road. I think I am able
to win the rally but it will be difficult.
"There are still two long days and Petter is pushing hard."
Burns, who was disadvantaged by having to go out first in
each stage on the slippery gravel tracks, said he was hoping to
cut into Loeb's advantage over the weekend.
The Englishman has not won a race all season but leads the
championship by five points.
Rally Australia is the 10th round of the 14-race world championship.
Standings at the end of day two:
1. Sebastien Loeb (Fra) Citroen 1hr 23min 52.4sec
2. Petter Solberg (Nor) Subaru Impreza at 3.9sec
3. Richard Burns (GBR) Peugeot 39.1
4. Tommi Makinen (Fin) Subaru Impreza 1:00.2
5. Markko Martin (Est) Ford Focus 1:05.0
6. Carlos Sainz (Spa) Citroen 1:12.6
7. Colin McRae (GBR) Citroen 1:25.0
8. Harri Rovanpero (Fin) Peugeot 1:52.9
9. Freddy Loix (Bel) Hyundai Accent 2:41.6
10. Didier Auriol (Fra) Skoda 2:52.7