Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Kronos Total Citroën WRT Xsara took the lead of the Rally Japan during the morning.
Having ended the day with two runs through the Kita Aikoku spectator superspecial, Seb and Daniel now have a 25.6 second advantage over Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen.
"There are about 100 competitive kilometres left, and having pushed hard from the start I'm going to keep pushing hard to the end. Marcus will probably do the same thing, so the battle continues!" said Loeb.
Two mistakes in slippery conditions this morning in the remote countryside of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, cost Grönholm his lead. The 38-year-old Finn will start tomorrow's third and final leg of this 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship 25.6sec behind leader Sébastien Loeb. Hirvonen is 1min 17.5sec behind his team-mate and a comfortable 2min 41.0sec clear of fourth-placed Chris Atkinson.
Drivers tackled two loops of gravel special stages north-east of the host city of Obihiro, in similar territory to yesterday's action. The day ended with two more passes over the spectacular super special stage on the edge of the city, making a total of 128.02km of competition. Blue skies and warm sunshine ensured the roads were drier than the first leg, although there was plenty of mud under the trees in the forests to keep the drivers focused.
"It was slippery and I made too many mistakes," he said. "Firstly I hooked a wheel off the road on a right hand bend in a narrow section and spun. I had to reverse and turn around. Then on the next stage I went off at a slow left corner and had to reverse back onto the stage. I don't understand why I made such mistakes."
Chris Atkinson (Subaru) shrugged aside yesterday's 50sec penalty to regain fourth, despite swiping a tree on stage 14. Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) admitted he preferred the dry conditions and he has a comfortable advantage over Dani Sordo (Citroen).
Petter Solberg (Subaru) continued to suffer brake problems but the Norwegian climbed to seventh and is only 6.1sec behind Sordo. The only major retirement was Matthew Wilson who struggled through the morning with a broken turbocharger. He pulled over to let Atkinson pass in stage 14 but his car became beached in a ditch and it could not be extricated. He will restart the final day under SupeRally rules.
The final day is the shortest of the event. Competitors leave Obihiro at 06.00 and head north-west of the city for two groups of stages, split by service back at the Kita Aikoku service park. The rally ends with a fifth and final pass over the super special stage next to service. Drivers tackle six tests in all covering 93.90km.
Rally of Japan Leg 2
1. S Loeb/D Elena F Citroen Xsara 2hr 27min 45.7sec
2. M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 28min 11.3sec
3. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS 2hr 29min 28.8sec
4. C Atkinson/G MacNeall AUS Subaru Impreza 2hr 32min 09.8sec
5. M Stohl/I Minor A Peugeot 307 2hr 32min 26.1sec
6. D Sordo/M Marti E Citroen Xsara 2hr 33min 11.3sec
7. P Solberg/P Mills N Subaru Impreza 2hr 33min 17.4sec
8. T Arai/T Sircombe J Subaru Impreza 2hr 34min 25.4sec
9. L Perez Companc/J-M Volta ARG Ford Focus RS 2hr 35min 38.7sec
10 G MacHale/P Nagle IRL Ford Focus RS 2hr 37min 08.8sec