Jan Kopecky and co-driver Petr Stary are on course to repeat their Barum Czech Rally Zlin victory of 2009 after completing the opening, rain-hit leg of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge counter with a lead of 28.2 seconds.
Roared through Saturday's demanding all-asphalt stages by tens of thousands of fans, the Czech driver was fastest on three of the day's eight tests in his works Skoda Fabia Super 2000 Facelift to add to his convincing victory on Friday evening's superspecial stage through the streets of host city Zlin in southeast Czech Republic.
"It's been a really great day but it's been really hard because the weather has been changing all the time," Kopecky reflected. "It was difficult and sometimes dangerous because you did not know when it would rain and what grip you would have. I have concentrated very hard but I must also do the same tomorrow because the conditions are likely to be quite bad again and it won't be easy."
Kopecky, however, had to give best to team-mate Freddy Loix through Saturday's final run. Loix, who has won on both of his two IRC starts so far this season, was almost seven seconds faster than Kopecky through the day-closing Trojak test, which elevated him from fifth to the runner-up spot.
The Belgian credited his upturn in pace to a more attacking driving style and tweaks to his Fabia's set-up to improve the traction.: "I was not driving well in the morning and I was not happy with my car," Loix confirmed. "But we made some changes and it was a lot better in the afternoon when I could really attack even though the conditions were tough."
Bryan Bouffier, in a factory-blessed Peugeot 207 S2000, meanwhile is third after losing ground with two off-road moments. However, his performance on a rare outing in the IRC has been impressive from the outset, as was the fastest stage time he achieved on the first run through the daunting 29-kilometre Trojak test, one of several to be held in treacherous weather conditions.
"I was quite surprised with some of my times,” Bouffier admitted. “We have made some small mistakes but really it has been good. On the last stage I went off after five kilometres and had a big vibration for the rest of the stage."
IRC title leader Juho Hanninen and defending champion Kris Meeke round out the top five in fourth and fifth respectively. Hanninen had closed to within one second of team-mate Kopecky with the quickest time on stage four only to slide off on a high-speed left-hander halfway through the next run. Despite striking a tree with the rear of his Fabia, which inflicted considerable cosmetic damage, Hanninen was able to complete the run, albeit 30 seconds slower than stage winner Bouffier, which has dropped him 35.2s off the overall lead.
Meeke was in a relatively comfortable third place after eight stages but ended up going off the road twice and also nudging a bank on stage nine and is almost 50 seconds off the pace as a result. The first off into a field cost 10 seconds, wrecked the Northern Irishman's confidence and contributed to another moment on a high-speed right-hander later in the stage. Meeke was unable to explain his car's wayward tendencies through the stage so his Peugeot UK mechanics set about a thorough overhaul of his 207 at the end of day service halt to try to identify any possible mechanical glitch.