Bryan Bouffier remains on course for Monte Carlo Rally victory with two stages to go, as new second-place man Freddy Loix was only able to trim a few seconds from his lead on tonight's first loop.
Conditions have remained dry and relatively ice-free for tonight's deciding stages, and sixth and fourth-fastest times on the first two tests saw Peugeot's Bouffier maintain a 47.7-second lead over Skoda driver Loix, who eased past Francois Delecour for second on SS10.
"I'm having lots of fun, the car is good and I hope it stays like this, it's perfect," said Bouffier.
Delecour is still third, but Guy Wilks is now just 5.9sec behind him. The veteran Frenchmen lost nearly half a minute to the stage winners on both SS10 and SS11, and is now convinced that his Peugeot 207 is down on power.
"It has to be the engine," said Delecour. "All the time we are going downhill, I'm very fast. I'm going flat-out."
Stephane Sarrazin was on course to take third from Delecour, having already overhauled Wilks for fourth on SS10, only for his Peugeot to get stuck in fourth gear late on SS11. He is now 14sec behind Wilks, and half a minute ahead of former leader Juho Hanninen. Petter Solberg remains seventh and admitted that he was not at maximum speed with little chance of catching anyone ahead.
"We are pushing, we don't want to go slow," said Solberg. "But of course it is different, that's for sure. I was really on it yesterday, but this is part of the game."
Both tonight's first two stages were won by drivers further down the order. Eighth-placed Nicolas Vouilloz and 11th-placed Giandomenico Basso took a fastest time each as they picked up speed after their difficult starts to the week.
Toni Gardemeister had a scare on SS10 when his Peugeot's throttle began to stick, but he made it safely through both stages and stays 10th behind Jan Kopecky.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Bryan Bouffier Peugeot 3h02m47.5s
2. Freddy Loix Skoda + 47.7s
3. Francois Delecour Peugeot + 1m22.2s
4. Guy Wilks Peugeot + 1m28.1s
5. Stephane Sarrazin Peugeot + 1m42.3s
6. Juho Hanninen Skoda + 2m12.0s
7. Petter Solberg Peugeot + 3m45.2s
8. Nicolas Vouilloz Skoda + 5m23.7s
9. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 7m57.2s
10. Toni Gardemeister Peugeot + 9m01.8s