Australia is Mikko's domain on leg 2

Australia is Mikko's domain on leg 2From Adrian Kirk-Burnnand [ 28/10/2006 ].
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The Bannister stages ~70 kilometres South East of Perth laid host to the morning rally action of leg 2. The stages around Bannister were made famous by their sequence of jumps and watersplash - and as well for their speed. The wider stages although faster than leg 1 were easier on the competitors of the final Rally Australia in Perth. With the chaos of leg 1's retirements behind them Petter Solberg (Subaru) was the chase car in second position with a 26.2second deficit to make up on Ford's Mikko Hirvonen. And he put in all he had, but Mikko had more today - the final gap going into Sunday's leg 3, 32.3seconds.

Hirvonen won three of the five Bannister stages to increase his advantage by a slender 0.2sec. Although the tracks were covered in a thick coat of loose gravel, earlier cars swept much of it away and the wider roads left more room for manoeuvre. A heavy rain shower during the lunchtime service compacted the gravel on the more technical afternoon tests, and there was more grip for the 26-year-old Finn than there had been on the same roads yesterday. He was second on both tests and ended the day by sharing another stage victory with Grönholm at Gloucester Park. "I've had a fantastic day with no problems and I really enjoyed it," said Hirvonen.

"I've proved that I can drive fast enough to challenge for victory. I've watched Petter Solberg's split times and driven accordingly. It's nice to be able to defend a lead and I've proved something to myself under pressure. I'm still not really thinking about actually winning. I'm just trying to maintain a good speed and keep Petter behind us.

"I expected Petter to push hard this morning but I knew those stages well and I was up for the challenge. I must think about manufacturers' points and not make any mistakes. If he catches me tomorrow then I will not risk everything to stay ahead because the points are more important than the win. Tomorrow's stages will be tricky but I'm not worrying about them. I will sleep like a baby tonight!" he added.

Petter Solberg: “It’s been very close today and I’ve really enjoyed the fight. This afternoon was not as damp as we hoped, so I think I lost some time there with the tyre choice. Of course I really want to win, but I think Mikko wants to win too! It’s a long day tomorrow and the stages are a bit more difficult so it will be very interesting to see what happens.”

Marcus Gronholm continued his charge through the field winning 3 stages after his accident on leg 1, starting the leg 18th and finishing it in 7th overall. Ford will be keen to score the points Marcus should collect - when combined with Mikko's possible 10 manufacturer points - Ford will be one step closer to securing the 2006 title from Citroen (2nd).

During the leg Pons and Stohl swapped positiongs, both driving smoothly throughout the day to lie in 3rd and 4th respectively.

While the main battle behind the remaining WRC field in Group N was hot going into Leg 2 with 5 drivers within a minute of the Group N lead the standings after Leg 2 are quite different. Marcus Ligato now leads by ~28seconds from Latvala and Teiskonen (a further 20seconds behind). Toshi Arai rolled his Subaru on SS17. The big news for the Australian crowds was the time lost by their own local West Australian Dean Herridge. Leading and driving superbly on Leg 1 he now trails 9th overall and 4th Group N. The second Australian crew in the overall standings is Perth based Darren Windus and Jon Mortimer also driving an Impreza.

The most spectacular jump of the morning went to Chris Atkinson, out to impress the crowds after losing so much time on Leg 1 parking the car down a bank. The local hero explained: “After the time loss yesterday there was nothing to be gained in being a hero today. I didn’t have the same confidence in the car as yesterday, so I’ve not been taking big risks and have wanted to look after the car for New Zealand.”

Clear skies and a top of 33 degrees Celsius met crews and the crowds met with Australia's dust. But breif showers early afternoon were a hint of the cooler day due for the final Leg.

© 2006 International Sportsworld Communications Limited