Ford team boss Malcolm Wilson insisted that Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen had given the Blue Oval its best performance of the World Rally Championship season to date in Sardinia after retaining first and second during day two of the event.
Latvala went into the day holding a 40 second lead but was faced with the prospect of sweeping the road for the cars behind. While he saw Hirvonen close that gap to less than ten seconds, the young Finn produced a solid run through the day's stages to take the lead into the final day of the event.
Hirvonen meanwhile posted two quickest stages time while running second on the road and is a comfortable second after Sebastien Loeb ran into problems, leading to the prospect of the Ford pair fighting for victory on the final day.
"It has been the best performance of the year so far,” Wilson said. “Both have driven fantastically well, especially given the disadvantage of their start position, and stayed out of trouble on the rough stages. It will be hard for Jari-Matti to stay ahead of Mikko as he must sweep the roads again, but the most important thing is to retain first and second."
Latvala himself has come under plenty of pressure this season after a series of below-par results, but he admitted he had benefitted from the experience of running first on the road and wasn't discounting his chances of holding on for victory.
"Today was almost perfect, apart from a small spin at a junction in an asphalt section of the penultimate stage," he said. "I drove as well as I could in those conditions and expected to lose more time. It was hard to judge the braking points this morning because as first car into the stages, there were no marks to help me. Running first was good for my experience and I needed to learn how to drive in those conditions.
"The gap to Mikko is very small and it will be hard for me to hold him off tomorrow as I will again open the stages. I would have liked a lead of about 25sec tonight, or to be behind Mikko and force him to do the cleaning role that I had to do today. But if I can drive like I have today then a win isn't out of the question."
Hirvonen meanwhile insisted his aim for the final day was clear – to try and secure his first victory of the year.
"I'm going for the win tomorrow," he said. "The situation looks good now. I took time from Jari-Matti today and he must clean the roads again tomorrow. It has been a great rally so far, but tomorrow won't be straight forward and it's easy to make a simple, but costly, mistake here.”