"This morning I wasn't so comfortable but this afternoon was much better and I was really able to push," Petter stated. "The team have been working hard and things are going well.
"A podium would be very, very good but there's so many things happening on this rally. But at the end of the day it's good and I am happy with third. Tomorrow we will have to push very hard to keep the third place, but I am feeling good at the moment."
Hirvonen in contrast was disappointed with his pace and not 100 per cent sure why he wasn't faster.
"It was a strange day. My feeling with the car was good and the handling was fine but when I tried to control my speed it didn't work," explained the current championship leader. "I've not had the pace and I don't know why because I've not been over-driving.
"I want to go and check the data from my car to try to find where I'm losing time. It's still possible to get to second, which is the minimum I want from this rally."
Atkinson completes the top five, another 10.1 seconds back - and only narrowly up on Gigi Galli.
Galli opted to attack from the off and while it nearly went pear-shaped in SS2, when he hit a bank and picked up a puncture, which cost him around 70 seconds, he kept on it and even topped the times in SS4, hauling himself back up the leaderboard.
In total the Italian set top-three times in every test, bar SS2, and he could yet get onto the podium.
Further down the order, Jari-Matti Latvala
finished the day seventh and like Gigi he had problems in Crastazza when he conceded time with a puncture and was caught out by the narrow roads. Jari had led initially and set two quickest times during the day, but the 90 seconds he lost in SS2 have put pay to any realistic chance of him winning.
Fellow Ford man, Henning Solberg
completes the provisional points scorers in eighth, on his second 'guest' outing under the Munchi's banner. The Norwegian struggled early on, but was happier after service A and after making some changes to the set-up.
Of the rest, Citroen
privateer Urmo Aava
ended proceedings in ninth, slipping out of the points in the final stage, while Suzuki WRT duo Toni Gardemeister and Per-Gunnar Andersson came in tenth and eleventh respectively, followed by Conrad Rautenbach, Federico Villagra, Matthew Wilson
and Mads Ostberg.
In the Junior World Rally Championship category Martin Prokop took the lead on SS2 and finished the day 3.7 seconds up on Michal Kosciuszko. Patrik Sandell completes the JWRC podium with Alessandro Bettgea and Jaan Molder fourth and fifth respectively.
Of the retirees, Andreas Mikkelsen and BP Ford
Abu Dhabi WRT 'third' driver Khalid Al Qassimi
were the biggest casualties, the former rolling in SS2, while the latter hit a rock in SS4 and damaged the front left of the car. Al Qassimi will now re-start under the SupeRally.