Citroen's Sebastien Loeb
has seen his lead on the Rallye Monte Carlo increase almost two-fold following the opening loop on Saturday.
Loeb was second quickest in the first test of the day - 2 seconds off his team-mate, Daniel Sordo, before he topped the leader-board in SS10 and SS11, 1.2 seconds up on Sordo in St Bonnet 1 and 8.9 seconds up on Francois Duval in Lamastre 1.
With Sordo having to pull out in SS11 though due to engine problems, Seb saw his margin over second place go from around almost a minute to nearly two. He subsequently returned to the service area at Valence with a 1 minute 53.5 second lead.
"SS9 was a tricky stage and I did not take any risks," Seb reflected. "It was very foggy at the start of the next test. The ice crew reported more ice patches than I actually encountered. I kept going flat out though in order to increase my lead. I feel great in the car, and I get a lot of pleasure."
Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile has now inherited the runners-up spot following Sordo's misfortune. The Finn had been hoping to cut the deficit to Dani this morning but actually lost out in SS9 and SS10.
"Dani has retired so that has helped me and I really want to keep this position now," said Hirvonen. "Two points more for second would be good but there is still a long distance to go.
"I tried hard on the opening stage but I couldn't match Dani's pace so I eased off slightly and kept the pressure on him. I stalled the engine at the start of the last test but that only cost a few seconds."
Chris Atkinson completes the podium, albeit a minute further back. The Aussie is however still locked in a battle with Francois Duval and now it is P3 they are squabbling over not P4. Initially Atkinson took first blood and was quicker than the Stobart
Ford 'guest' driver in Labatie 1, but he then lost out in SS10 and SS11. They are currently separated by 10.1 seconds.
"For sure it's good to be in third, but today showed how unpredictable this event can be," stated Atkinson. "We've had good pace this morning, although I could have pushed a little harder in places, but there's still a long way to go and a lot of stages left.