Sebastien Loeb has conceded defeat in the Rally Finland after dropping back from Mikko Hirvonen with a puncture.
The World Rally Champion damaged his Citroen's tire near the end of SS15, losing 13 seconds. He initially feared he had also broken his suspension but this proved to have remained intact.
"In a hairpin, there was a hole in the road, I went in, it hit, and I think it put the tire off the rim," Loeb explained.
He then decided to back off on the following stage, and is now 28s adrift of his rally-leading title rival.
"Now, it's over," Loeb said. "Mikko is too fast and he's done no mistakes, so I'm trying to finish now."
Hirvonen said he had also eased his previously frantic pace once Loeb was no longer right on his tail.
"It's looking good at the moment," said the Ford driver after SS16. "I took it a little bit more steadily there, there were a lot of rocks on these narrow roads and I didn't want to make any mistakes or have any punctures."
In more good news for Ford, Hirvonen's teammate Jari-Matti Latvala took third from Citroen's Dani Sordo on SS16 as the Spaniard feared that he too had suffered a puncture. Sordo's slightly slower pace and Latvala's victory on the stage were sufficient to put the Finn up to third by 1.4s.
"Now finally it's going well," said Latvala, who was also starting to feel better after his morning illness. "I'm very pleased with that. It's been a big, big fight with Dani and I know he will fight back later. Now we need to keep this same speed for the next stages."
Matti Rantanen remains fifth for Munchi's Ford, while Adapta Subaru's Mads Ostberg is unhappy with his pace in sixth and beginning to come under pressure from Sebastien Ogier, with Jari Ketomaa also closing in.
Kimi Raikkonen is now third in Group N after overhauling Patrik Flodin, but is pessimistic about his chances of finishing after a troubled loop.
"We have a big problem with the engine, there's no power," said Raikkonen. "And on the last stage we jumped a bit too much and we damaged the suspension. We'll keep going as long as we can, but unfortunately we cannot go very fast anymore as we have no power."Leading positions after SS16:
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 2h01m29.8s
2. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 28.0s
3. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 1m08.8s
4. Dani Sordo Citroen + 1m10.2s
5. Matti Rantanen Ford + 3m31.4s
6. Mads Ostberg Subaru + 4m13.0s
7. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 4m15.1s
8. Jari Ketomaa Subaru + 4m30.1s
9. Matthew Wilson Ford + 5m12.4s
10. Conrad Rautenbach Citroen + 7m35.9s