At the end of the second day, Stobart M-Sport Ford driver Henning Solberg has begun his charge for a points finish at the Rallye de Espaņa while teammate Matthew Wilson remains well-placed to take his ninth points finish.
Both drivers moved up one place today to leave Wilson
in seventh and Solberg in ninth position, with the Briton showing his trademark consistency while the Norwegian started to overcome his battle to get to grips with driving on asphalt.
Day Two took the 65 crews that made it through Friday's tricky conditions to the northwest of Service Park in Salou. Yesterday morning's damp conditions were replaced with fast, dry roads on the 63.99km three-stage loop, with the longest stage of the rally, the 38.27km El Priorat/La Ribera D'Ebre making up more than half of that distance and attracting thousands of spectators.
With winding, technical tracks, mixed with fast, wide sections, the long opening stage provided a tough challenge for the drivers, but the shorter stages in the loop were equally demanding with gravel dragged onto the roads where drivers cut the corners, making conditions slippery and placing heavy demands on the drivers' skill to pick the right line through the corners.
After admitting that he was struggling to find his rhythm on the tarmac over the morning stages, Solberg lost valuable time on his rivals, but also benefited from Novikov's error to move up to ninth place. With no pre-event testing under his belt on his least favoured surface, the Norwegian has been fighting to adapt to the unfamiliar conditions, but he used the midday service to revert to some of the settings that he used on last year's edition of the rally to help his confidence and feel for the car.
Those changes worked wonders for Solberg and co-driver Cato Menkerud as they made huge strides forward on the second pass of the stages this afternoon. While other crews posted slower times on their second pass of the 8.6km SS11 Les Garrigues 2, Solberg took eight seconds off the mark he had posted on the morning loop and outpaced both teammate Wilson and points rival Federico Villagra on both closing stages of the day.
With just 20 seconds separating Solberg from a place in the points, currently occupied by the Munchi's team's Villagra, he will be pushing hard to move up the rankings tomorrow.
On the opening stage of the day Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin lost some time after a pace note error caused the young Brit to brake too early on a twisting, technical section of the test.
But Evgeny Novikov's crash meant that they were promoted to seventh place by the end of the stage. The crew maintained the consistency they found yesterday, tackling the slippery conditions well to maintain their lead over nearest rival Federico Villagra, picking up the pace as the day progressed.
But the Brits also got into the their stride in the afternoon, posting good times as they got to grips with the surface and the variable conditions adding another five seconds to their cushion over Villagra, one place behind.
The final day of the rally is the shortest at 93.88kms but sticks to the familiar format of two passes over a three-stage loop. The stages take place just west of the host town with two longer tests finishing with a 4.1km sprint over La Serra d'Almos before the crews arrive back in Salou for the finish.
"We have had a better day today and our times have been getting closer to the leading drivers," Matthew Wilson said. "The stages today were more bumpy and abrasive than yesterday, but I think that we coped quite well with them. The stages tomorrow should suit me better as they are more flowing in nature and we have got a good set of pacenotes so I'm looking forward to it."
"It's been a much better day, especially on the afternoon stages," Henning Solberg said. "At the midday service we softened the back of the car, changing the springs and anti-roll bar and that helped a lot. We also altered the centre diff after SS10 and that made a real difference. I seem to be going well on the narrow, bumpy sections but I'm still finding it hard on the smooth, wide roads. We've taken some time back off Federico Villagra and that's who I am aiming to catch tomorrow."
"Both guys are sticking to the game plan and have delivered another full day of solid driving," added Team Principal Malcolm Wilson. "They have both shown good improvement today, especially Henning, even when the stages have been difficult with cuts and patchy gravel on the road. I hope that Henning can move up the standings tomorrow to make it another double-points finish for the team."