Mikko Hirvonen continues to lead the Monte Carlo Rally with two stages to go, having stabilized the gap back to Sebastien Ogier at 46 seconds.
The charging Ogier won this evening's first stage, taking him past Skoda's Juho Hanninen into second place – although the Frenchman said he was totally focused on chasing Hirvonen's Ford for victory.
"It's just Hirvonen [I'm battling with], not Hanninen," Ogier said after SS12. "The important thing is to try to beat Mikko."
But Hirvonen responded in style on SS13, beating Ogier by 8 seconds and making his position look a lot more secure going into the final loop.
"That was good, a bit more room to breathe but there's still two more stages to go," said Hirvonen. "I'm going flat-out. It's just so unpredictable with the conditions. Sebastien's giving everything he has, so I can't slow down too much."
Hanninen is now 40 seconds behind Ogier, and reckoned his tire choice had cost him any hope of hanging on to second.
"We had winter tires and there was not as much ice as we expected on the downhill, so it's obvious that in these conditions he will go far away," he said at the end of SS12. "It's difficult now."
Nicolas Vouilloz remains fourth for Skoda, no longer in touch with the top three but safely clear of the rest of the field.
After his earlier progress, Guy Wilks (Skoda UK) has now slipped back from fifth to seventh, his choice of intermediate tires costing him on what turned out to be fairly dry stages and allowing Stephane Sarrazin (Peugeot France) – who had gambled on slick tires and won SS13 – and Jan Kopecky (Skoda) to slip ahead.
Kopecky had previously taken seventh from Franz Wittmann on SS12. The Austrian then clouted a wall on the next stage and did rally-ending damage to his new Peugeot, allowing Bruno Magalhaes to move back into the points.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 4h04m12.3s
2. Sebastien Ogier Peugeot + 46.1s
3. Juho Hanninen Skoda + 1m25.3s
4. Nicolas Vouilloz Skoda + 2m47.9s
5. Stephane Sarrazin Peugeot + 7m32.3s
6. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 8m33.9s
7. Guy Wilks Skoda + 8m35.8s
8. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot + 8m41.1s
9. Jean-Sebastien Vigion Peugeot + 12m34.9s
10. Jaroslav Orsak Skoda + 19m06.6s