The defending champions will begin the final day half-a-second clear of Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin but know finishing third or higher is enough to retain their title in this their last season as team-mates.

Throughout the course of today, which was a combination of four closed-road stages and two that weaved their way in and around Monza circuit, never more than a handful of seconds separated them.

In a class of their own, the Toyota Gazoo Racing crews warmed up the chilly alpine air in northern Italy earlier this morning by searing through the mountain roads located north and north east of Bergamo.

After leapfrogging Evans on the ‘San Fermo’ opener, Ogier lost out to the Welshman on the next stage before moving his Yaris supermini to the front again and steadying the ship with another fastest time.

Saturday’s action concluded with two tests at the iconic track. Knitting high-speed Tarmac sections with narrow access roads usually reserved for officials and rescue services, Evans turned the tables.

He excelled around the sprawling complex on Friday and repeated the trick 24 hours later, breaking the timing beam 5.5 seconds faster than Ogier on the 8.99-miles of ‘Sottozero’ to reclaim number one spot by three tenths of a second.

Incredibly, the lead changed hands in the darkness of 'Sottozerro 2' as Ogier moved back to the top of the leaderboard, albeit by half-a-second.

Behind a squabbling Evans and Ogier, Hyundai’s Dani Sordo is on course to repeat the third-place finish he achieved on last month’s Rally Spain.

Sordo’s day was largely trouble-free, although he did have to drive around initial understeer issues that gave the front end of his i20 Coupe World Rally Car a “floating” sensation.

Team-mate Thierry Neuville had made the final step on the WRC podium his own yesterday and began the penultimate leg with the promise of attacking the road ahead of him right from the word go.

The Belgian was true to his word and recorded a scratch time on the morning’s first test. He continued to turn up the wick on the next stage only to push the envelope too far on cold tyres and lose control.

It happened as he entered a sweeping right-hander; the rear of the car broke free and the momentum carried it into the armco barrier on the opposite side of the road. He managed to nurse his tatty looking supermini back to lunchtime service despite suffering with understeer brought about due to a lack of frontal downforce.

Despite mounting a fightback around Monza, Neuville starts the final day 19.2 seconds shy of Sordo.

On his best World Rally Championship showing to date, Oliver Solberg – the son of 2003 WRC champion, Petter – is fifth.

Today wasn’t as kind to the young Swede as Friday; on SS8 he found the set-up of his 2C Competition-run Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC to be too hard. Subsequent changes applied before the start of SS9 led to the car's ride being too soft.

Solberg still had enough in hand despite this trial-and-error experience to stay ahead of Toyota junior Takamoto Katsuta in sixth. Katsuta is almost 40 seconds in front of Hyundai Motorsport WRC debutant Teemu Suninen who is deputising for the absent Ott Tanak.