Jari-Matti Latvala continues to lead Rally Australia after the main part of leg two, ahead of his Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen.
With Hirvonen running first on what are now dry and dusty roads this morning, Latvala was able to set a series of fastest stage times and sprint into the lead.
Though conditions were more equal on the second pass once much of the dust had cleared, Latvala still edged slightly further away to head for the day-closing superspecials 22.6 seconds ahead.
Ford team boss Malcolm Wilson had intimated yesterday that he would ultimately ensure Hirvonen finished in front of Latvala as the former has by far the better title shot, and Latvala hinted that while he was leading at present, getting to the finish was the only real concern.
"There's not been a big fight but sometimes there's been a little pressure," he said. "We need to keep the cars on the road, that's the main thing now."
Hirvonen said he was content with staying within sight of Latvala in second, especially as the potential challenge from third-placed Petter Solberg had not materialised.
"Jari hasn't got too far away and he's going to be cleaning the road tomorrow, and Petter hasn't got close, so it's been a good day," said Hirvonen.
Having lost touch with the Fords this morning, Solberg was able to match - but rarely beat - their pace on the second loop following lunchtime set-up changes. He completed the day exactly a minute off the lead, and remained optimistic that he might be able to get back into the fight on Sunday.
"Everything can happen tomorrow," said Solberg. "We know they are very strong now, but never say never."
His brother Henning had to retire from fourth when his Stobart Ford ground to a halt on SS15. That elevated Matthew Wilson (Stobart) to fourth – which would equal his career-best – and Khalid Al Qassimi to fifth, which would be the Abu Dhabi driver's best World Rally Championship finish so far.
Having rejoined under superally following their Friday crashes, the factory Citroens won all four stages this afternoon, with three fastest times going to Sebastien Ogier and one to Sebastien Loeb. They are currently 11th and 17th respectively, while Evgeny Novikov (Stobart Ford) is the first of the superally runners to get back into the points in 10th amid continued high attrition throughout the field.
After his turbo problem this morning, Hayden Paddon has already charged back to reclaim sixth overall and the Production class lead from rival Michal Kosciuszko.
Leading positions after SS18:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford 2h38m34.5s
2. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 22.6s
3. Petter Solberg Solberg Citroen + 1m00.0s
4. Matthew Wilson Stobart Ford + 5m47.6s
5. Khalid Al Qassimi Abu Dhabi Ford + 9m09.3s
6. Hayden Paddon Symtech Subaru + 13m05.8s
7. Michal Kosciuszko Lotus Mitsubishi + 13m06.8s
8. Oleksandr Saliuk Mentos Mitsubishi + 15m10.3s
9. Benito Guerra GMA Mitsubishi + 16m10.6s
10. Evgeny Novikov Stobart Ford + 16m53.8s