Jari-Matti Latvala led Dani Sordo by just 1.6 seconds at the end of a second day of the Rally of Spain that remained remarkably free of tactical driving.
With the running order for Sunday's decisive gravel stages being based on the classifications after stage eight, it was expected that the front drivers would deliberately slow down to avoid having to sweep the roads clear for their rivals. However, with early leader Sebastien Ogier's morning puncture costing him almost a minute, and creating a battle for the top spot between Latvala and Sordo, there was little room for let-up.
Volkswagen driver Latvala, who shared the lead with Sordo at lunchtime, beat his Citroen rival by 0.1sec, 1.1sec and 0.4sec on each of the stages to end the day with his slender advantage.
Thierry Neuville gained on Latvala in the battle for the runner-up spot in the championship by setting his first fastest time of the event on SS8, which was also the points-paying PowerStage. M-Sport driver Neuville hauled his Ford Fiesta to within 29.2sec of the lead as a result and gave away just 0.1sec on the final run of the day. He heads Ogier by 17.2sec with both having more favourable road positions than the front two. Frenchman Ogier passed both Mikko Hirvonen's Citroen and Evgeniy Novikov's M-Sport Ford for fourth by setting the pace on SS7.
Novikov then took fifth spot by snatching 7sec from Hirvonen on the following stage, but lost the position on the 1.2-mile SS9 run through Salou and is 0.1sec behind.
Seventh-placed Mads Ostberg gradually pulled clear of Hayden Paddon, who lost eighth spot to Martin Prokop after a cautious run through SS9.
Robert Kubica continued to hold 10th place, the Pole having been the fastest WRC2 runner on eight of the nine stages so far. The Citroen driver, who will become WRC2 champion if he finishes inside the top two in the category this weekend, was put in a more comfortable position when Nasser Al-Attiyah – who had been 11th – crashed on SS8 in his Fiesta World Rally Car.
Briton Elfyn Evans, who had been second in WRC2, crashed out of the spot on SS9, promoting Skoda man Sepp Wiegand – ninth overall on SS9 – to 11th in the rally.
Leading positions after SS6:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen 2h06m08.9s
2. Dani Sordo Citroen +1.6s
3. Thierry Neuville M-Sport Ford +29.3s
4. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen +46.5s
5. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen +57.8s
6. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford +57.9s
7. Mads Ostberg M-Sport Ford +2m28.4s
8. Martin Prokop Czech Ford +3m06.7s
9. Hayden Paddon M-Sport Ford +3m08.6s
10. Robert Kubica PH Citroen +4m07.6s*