Subaru rally driver Chris Atkinson has finished Leg Two of Rally New Zealand in fifth place and is well positioned for a strong points result when the event concludes tomorrow.

Sebastien Loeb has taken over the lead from Marcus Gronholm, but by just 1.7 seconds. Mikko Hirvonen is third, another one minute 10.8 seconds back.

Atkinson started the day in fourth place but was immediately overtaken by Jari Latvala on the opening stage. The two were locked in an absorbing battle across the day’s 130 competitive kilometres, with the Ford driver finishing with a mere 10.5 second buffer over the Australian.

The Subaru driver will be out to move back up the leaders’ board on the final day with a further seven stages and 95 competitive kilometres remaining.

“Overall it’s not bad, we’re in a good fight with Jari, but we could have been quicker,” Atkinson said.

“We’ve tried our best out there today, and we’ve made some more progress with the competitiveness of the car.

“We made some set-up changes last night but they didn’t really have the desired effect and I struggled a little on the first stage today, especially in the faster sections where I couldn’t hold a good line.”

“The splits against Jari showed it clearly - we were faster in the twister stuff but he made up time once the speed picked up. We softened the rear diff a little before the second stage, and that helped, but it took me a bit of time to get used to the new feeling.”

“We changed the car a bit this afternoon and made some improvements to the high-speed handling.”

“I didn’t know the stages this afternoon so well, so I didn’t take too many risks – especially the first one because I went off there last year.”

“Tomorrow we’ll just have to wait and see what we can do. We’ve been pretty good on the twisty stuff - so stages like the Whaanga Coast could be really good. I’m looking forward to it.”

For Sunday’s final leg of Rally New Zealand, the crews head due west from rally headquarters towards the coast. The main action consists of two loops of three stages. The first test of the day, Maungatawhiri, is short and very fast, but Te Hutewai is a more traditional Kiwi special stage and features lots of flowing medium-speed bends and corners hidden over crests. The last ‘proper’ stage of the rally is the famous 29km Whaanga Coast section, after which crews return to Hamilton for a rally-closing loop of the Super Special.

Results after Leg Two, Rally New Zealand

1, LOEB, Citroën, 02:47:25.1
2, GRÖNHOLM, Ford, 02:47:26.8, +01.7
3, HIRVONEN, Ford, 02:48:37.6, +01:12.5
4, LATVALA, Ford, 02:49:27.4, +02:02.3
5, ATKINSON, Subaru, 02:49:37.9, +02:12.8
6, SORDO, Citroën, 02:50:14.5, +02:49.4
7, SOLBERG, Subaru, 02:50:51.0, +03:25.9
8, AAVA, Mitsubishi, 02:54:42.3, +07:17.23

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