Qatar World Rally Team's Thierry Neuville strengthened his hold on third place on Rally Australia on Saturday.

Neuville began the leg just 0.5 seconds up on Citroen guest driver Kris Meeke, but stretched that gap to 8 seconds, before his rival made an error and crashed out in SS13, the first test after the mid-day service.

Neuville then set a string of top-three times over the afternoon and concluded the day 36.2 seconds up on his championship adversary, Jari-Matti Latvala, who lies fourth overnight in his Volkswagen Polo R WRC.

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"In places, the stages were a lot more slippery than we had expected, but I really enjoyed this morning's driving," Neuville reflected. "Everything was working well and the stages were really beautiful. The long stage [SS11 - Nambucca] in particular is really fast and flowing and that is what a driver enjoys the most - the road is really wide and you can attack into the corners."

"I really enjoyed this afternoon [too]," he added. "Kris was pushing really hard on the long stage [SS13] so we decided to push a bit as well. I think we did a really good time whilst saving the tyres. Okay, they [the tyres] weren't perfect, but we managed to finish the second stage with no problems, and a pretty good time actually!

"Now, we just need to ensure that we maintain this position and keep Jari-Matti behind us. Whilst not taking any big risks, we had some good times compared to him today so I hope we can continue like that tomorrow."

Team-mates Mads Ostberg and Evgeny Novikov meanwhile concluded Saturday's stages in P6 and P7 respectively in their Qatar M-Sport-run Fiesta RS WRC cars, the former had climbed up to fifth, 1.1 seconds off Latvala, until he ran wide in Valla 2.

"We went wide on a tarmac corner on SS14 - quite a tight left-hander," Ostberg recalled. "I was obviously too fast into the corner because we went really wide and drifted down into the ditch. We hit the bank and spun. It was quite a big impact so it took a while to get back into the rhythm and ensure that everything was fine.

"The car is OK though and we managed to take quite a lot of time out of Andreas [Mikkelsen] this morning so I hope we can continue like that and take back fifth place tomorrow [as we are only 2.6 seconds back]. Of course it would have been nicer going into tomorrow with a 20 second advantage as opposed to a few seconds disadvantage, but we are still here and there is all to play for."

"It's been another really solid day for all three crews. All the cars have ran faultlessly and it's great to see the team in such a strong position to challenge for tomorrow," summarised Qatar M-Sport boss, Malcolm Wilson.

"Thierry has impressed me once again. He's reinforced his position and increased the margin to Jari-Matti Latvala. He is determined not to let go of second place in the championship, and he is well on the way to achieving that goal."