The second leg of this weekend's Telstra Rally Australia was a much more drama-free affair than yesterday. Mikko Hirvonen and Petter Solberg enjoyed a huge scrap, the pair never more than fractions of seconds apart in terms of stage times, with Hirvonen maintaining control of the event and with it, the overall lead. Manfred Stohl consistently out-performed Xevi Pons throughout the day and ends leg two third.

Mikko Hirvonen

The day began with five stages in the Bannister forestry complex, formerly known as Bunnings. All five stage wins went to a Ford, three to Hirvonen and two to Gronholm. However, so close were Hirvonen and Solberg that the gap between them changed by just 0.2 seconds over the five stages and 75Km. Gronholm began a steady climb back up the leader-board, heading back to Perth for the lunchtime service in 12th overall.

Petter Solberg

Manfred Stohl and Xevi Pons were also fighting for third place but the OMV Peugeot Norway driver began to demonstrate a distinct advantage, as Pons complained that he was finding it difficult to get the right feeling with the car. Stohl eventually headed back towards Perth for the first time today with an 11.4 second margin over Pons.

Manfred Stohl

Behind them, there were four drivers returning under SupeRally regulations. Dani Sordo realised that there was absolutely no pointy in taking any big risks with the time lost on the first leg, missing each of the nine forest stages. So he spent the second day gaining experience, refining his pace notes and developing his Citroen Xsara ready for the following round in New Zealand.

In a similar vein, Chris Atkinson was putting in consistent times, working on his Subaru's set-up for the next round, explaining that the team were finding steps forward all the time.

Both of the Stobart VK Ford M-Sport drivers, Matthew Wilson and Luis Perez Companc were learning the event itself, each taking part for the first time. Perez said he was happy and enjoying the stages, while Wilson was happy to get to the end of the day's stages, having been first on the road in the Bannister complex and suffering with very little grip.

Luis Perez Companc

As the crews arrived at Perth for the service then, a rainstorm passed over and headed for the remaining two forest stages of the day. These were also the same two stages as yesterday afternoon, the second of which had caused so many problems with the dust. Many predicted the rain would help dampen down the problem, which the organisers had already resolved by introducing three minute gaps between cars.

As it transpired, the roads were not as damp as the drivers had thought. There were no major shake-ups in the standings, although both Xevi Pons and Petter Solberg said that they had taken soft tyres in anticipation of wetter stages.

Xavier Pons

So after two days, Hirvonen leads from Solberg, with Stohl in third and Pons fourth. However, at the end of the day, Marcus Gronholm had climbed up to 7th overall, just 45 seconds away from fifth place and the first group N car in the Production car World Rally Championship. At this rate, he will find himself in fifth within one or two stages on the final leg but will need at least two of the World Rally Cars ahead of him to drop at least nine minutes or retire to prevent Sebastien Loeb, undoubtedly watching the event from home with keen interest, to become the 2006 FIA World Rally Champion.

Marcus Gronholm