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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 September, 2003, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Loeb stays in front
Sebastien Loeb in action on day two in Australia
Loeb and Solberg shared the day's stage wins
Sebastian Loeb takes a five-second advantage into the final day of Rally Australia after holding off a strong challenge from Petter Solberg.

The Frenchman was made to fight hard in his Citroen as Solberg's Subaru piled on the pressure over eight tough stages in the Helena Valley east of Perth.

Loeb had taken the lead on Friday after Peugeot's world champion Marcus Gronholm ran off the course, but was only able to add just over a second to his 3.9-second overnight lead as he and Solberg shared the day's first eight stage wins.

England's Richard Burns is one minute 25.8secs behind Loeb and strengthening his grip on a second world title, with Ford's Markko Martin 27.3secs further back in fourth.

Martin took the final two stages of the day, which were both short sprints around Perth.

It's going to be a big, big battle
Petter Solberg

Scot Colin McRae is 2:19.5secs off the pace in his Citroen and Finland's Tommi Makinen sixth in his Subaru, 2:20.9 behind.

Solberg was lucky to escape with a cracked front spoiler after hitting a tree stump on stage 18.

"Sebastien has done a very good job today, but it is very close and it is going to go to another level tomorrow," he said. "It's going to be a big, big battle."

Loeb had won three and tied another of Friday's nine stages to take the lead after Gronholm blew his chances of a fourth consecutive Australian win when he slid into a ditch.

Burns has not won a race all season but leads the championship by five points with four more races to go after Australia.

Standings after 20 of 24 stages:

1 Sebastien Loeb (Fra) Citroen 2hrs 32 mins 04.6 secs
2 Petter Solberg (Nor) Subaru at 5.0secs
3 Richard Burns (GBR) Peugeot 1:25.8
4 Markko Martin (Est) Ford 1:53.1
5 Colin McRae (GBR) Citroen 2:19.5
6 Tommi Makinen (Fin) Subaru 2:20.9
7 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Citroen 2:26.8
8 Harri Rovanpera (Fin) Peugeot 2:54.2
9 Freddy Loix (Bel) Hyundai 5:17.8
10 Francois Duval (Bel) Ford 5:55.1




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