Sebastien Loeb has maintained his lead through the second day of Rally Cyprus, but saw his advantage cut on the run through Saturday afternoon's stages.
Aiming to secure his 50th victory in the WRC, the Citroen driver had extended his lead during the three stages which made up the morning of day two, with Ford's Mikko Hirvonen moving ahead of Dani Sordo into second place.
During the afternoon however, Hirvonen was able to take time out of Loeb on both the Xyliatos and Kourdali stages as Loeb struggled with a brake problem on his C4 and also suffered a stall in the final stage.
As a result, his lead going into the final day will be just under 50sec, although Loeb will have to contend with running first on the road through the final three stages of the event; which includes the longest test of the rally at more than 40km.
“We had to drive very smoothly to keep the brake temperature down,” he said following the final stage of the day. “Then, one kilometre from the end, we spun and stalled on a hairpin and I had to reverse to get going again. So two very difficult stages in the afternoon and we lost some time, but we're still in the lead and that's the most important thing for the moment.”
Hirvonen had endured a difficult opening day to the event but moved ahead of Sordo into second place when he went quickest on the second stage on Saturday and was able to hold his place through to the end of the leg, making the most of his road position to open up an advantage of over 46 seconds to the Spaniard.
“Finally I have learnt how to drive,” the Finn quipped. “There is a long day tomorrow and hopefully we can put some pressure on Sebastien. The gap is still very big, but you never know.”
From a solid second place overnight, Sordo now finds himself battling to even remain on the podium going into the final day after a storming afternoon from Petter Solberg in his privately-entered Citroen Xsara.
Having been over a minute and a half behind the works Citroen going into the leg, Solberg made small gains during the morning's three stages but was still 1min 25.7secs behind at the mid-day service. However, during the afternoon, Solberg was a man on a mission and took nearly 35 seconds out of Sordo on SS10 and the same amount on SS11 – both of which he won – to end the day just 15.9secs away from a place on the podium.