Francois Duval completes the provisional podium, but he is 25.5 seconds off P2, on his first outing under the BP Ford
Abu Dhabi WRT banner – although of course he was apart of the Ford set-up back in 2004.
The Belgian was marginally quicker than Mikko Hirvonen, who is fourth, 44.1 seconds off Loeb and 2.8 seconds off third.
"I had a good battle with Francois, and I'm sure it will be the same tomorrow, but I can't say I enjoyed the day," Hirvonen conceded. "The morning was disappointing which I didn't expect. After the test in Spain last week I felt excited as everything felt good and I thought I'd made a good step in the right direction. I was happier this afternoon and I hope we can do some magic tonight."
Further down the order Petter Solberg
is fifth and he posted four top-five times, even though he had brake problems on the repeat loop in the afternoon. The Subaru man was however, no-where near the leaders and is already a minute off Hirvonen.
"The soft tyres didn't work for us this morning and we lost a lot of time, but I felt more comfortable on the second two stages. This afternoon we were faster but the car actually felt harder to drive on the hard tyres," he explained.
Urmo Aava enjoyed a very solid day in his privately entered Citroen
C4 WRC and the Estonian was sixth fastest in all the stages. He had a few minor problems in the morning, but is near enough to be able to fight for fifth, just 13.7 seconds adrift of 'Hollywood'.
Jari-Matti Latvala, who has been demoted to the Stobart
team for this event - and the one that follows it in France - is also in the thick of the battle for P5, 3.2 seconds off Aava, while Chris Atkinson
completes the provisional points' scorers in eighth in the #2 Subaru WRT-run Impreza WRC 2008.
Andreas Mikkelsen had a poor afternoon and slipped to ninth in his Ramsport-run Focus, engine problems hampering his challenge. He had been seventh after the opening three tests.
Britain's Matthew Wilson
rounds out the top ten, having gained a spot in SS5, when Toni Gardemeister picked up a puncture and lost around 2 minutes. Gardemeister dropped down to 17th in his Suzuki SX4 WRC.
Of the rest Brice Tirabassi is twelfth on his first outing with the Subaru WRT, while Munchi's Ford
WRT duo Federico Villagra
and Henning Solberg
are 13th and 14th.
Per-Gunnar Andersson and Khalid Al Qassimi
were the only two 'works' retirements. P-G went out in the second test of the day when he went off the road and was unable to rejoin, while Al Qassimi retired with differential problems on his way back to the day's final service.