Citroen's Sebastien Loeb finally managed to break free from team-mate Dani Sordo in the final stage before the mid-day halt this morning, increasing his advantage on Rally Deutschland to a commanding 23 seconds.
Loeb, who had finished the first leg 9.5 seconds in front, was unable to really stretch that lead on the first loop. However, in Panzerplatte he took no prisoners and completed the 48 kilometre test - the longest stage of the season – in 27 minutes 55.8 seconds, 8.2 seconds up on Petter Solberg, who was second, and 12.2 seconds quicker than Sordo, who was third.
"It was okay - a good stage for me," Loeb said. "We had to look after the tyres and drove quite cautiously. You have to adapt your driving."
Sordo added: "In the first half I tried to take care of the tyres then I tried to push, but Seb is unbeatable. I didn't drive that well at the end."
Sebastien Ogier meanwhile now holds third to give Citroen a potential clean sweep of the podium places, after BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT man Jari-Matti Latvala spun around 10 kilometres from the end. The Finn had to reverse several times before he got going again and from being 7.7 seconds ahead of Ogier is now 8.9 seconds adrift. He blamed his pace notes for the mistake and said they were simply 'not realistic'.
"I had a smooth run until the last stage. I came down a long straight into a long left bend and it was difficult to see the corner. It was marked too fast in my pace notes and I went too wide," Latvala confirmed. "I saw the hinkelsteins on the side of the road and braked hard. The car spun into a bank and I lost time while I reversed back onto the road. But I'm still fighting for third. The first three stages were fast and bumpy. The open sections were dry, but under the trees the road surface was dirty and slippery."
"Panzerplatte was a very interesting stage," Ogier chipped in. "I heard that Latvala had stopped on the stage and slowed down. Then I heard that he had continued and I pushed again. It was no problem for me. The fight continues."
Further down the order, Mikko Hirvonen and Francois Duval remain fifth and sixth respectively, and neither had any issues. Hirvonen is now 13.3 seconds off Latvala and P4.
"I'm lacking confidence," Hirvonen admitted. "I would like to make the car more precise. Soft tyres were definitely the right choice for the opening three stages but I don't like the feeling with them. I want to stay in the battle for third so I hope I find a better feeling this afternoon."