Sebastien Ogier meanwhile continued to pull away from Mikko Hirvonen in fifth and is now 44.7 seconds up on the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT man.
"This afternoon was much better with the correct tyres on dry roads," said Hirvonen, who struggled this morning when team's tyre gamble failed to pay off. "If you take away the tyre trouble, I had a stable day. It's a difficult rally.
"The roads here are a mix of the type we encounter on other rounds but I enjoyed the challenge and they're fun to drive. Tomorrow I hope we can find a good rhythm and have a clean run to a solid points finish."
Further down the order, team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala lost time with power steering problems, although he remains sixth and is still more than a minute up on fellow Ford runner Per-Gunnar Andersson, who is making his debut here for the Stobart team.
"In the long corners I had no power in my arms to hold onto the steering wheel," Latvala explained. "It was better in the less twisty, faster sections. In the final stage I had nothing left in my arms, and I needed more than in the previous stage because the road was so bumpy.
"My priority now is to visit our physiotherapist! I'm frustrated because I felt I drove well. Before the power steering problem my times were closer to Mikko than on previous asphalt rallies, so I think I have improved on this surface."
P-G added: "It was like a sauna in the car this afternoon but everything went really well for us and I'm happy with our stage times this afternoon. The first two stages were very clean and everything went well apart from hitting a rock about half way through SS9 which damaged my front right wheel.
"There was also a stray dog on the stage at one point but this didn't cost me any time. I'm really enjoying myself on the stages and definitely feeling a lot more confident in the [Ford] Focus today. I will continue to push tomorrow."
Frigyes Turan completes the top eight in his Peugeot 307 WRC, followed by Britain's Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg's Ford Fiesta S2000.
"We made the right tyre choice this morning but unfortunately we made the wrong decision by sticking with the soft tyres for the afternoon," Wilson stated. "We quickly realised our mistake and used hard tyres for SS9 where everything felt much smoother – it was good to get a consistent grip on the tarmac.