Sebastien Ogier continues to lead the Rally of Portugal after the first loop of day three, but Sebastien Loeb has reduced his lead to 10.1 seconds.
Loeb was fastest on both of the first two stages this morning, taking 10sec out of Ogier's advantage. With a repeat run through that loop and then the Algarve Stadium superspecial remaining, factory Citroen driver Loeb is potentially on target to overhaul Ogier (Citroen Junior) if he maintains this pace, but Loeb is concerned that he will be unable to take so much time out of Ogier on the repeat loop when the stages are cleaner for the leader.
"Yesterday on the first stages I was very fast and it was OK, but the second pass was completely bad," said Loeb.
With Citroen motorsport boss Olivier Quesnel having emphasised last night that while Ogier and Loeb were free to fight for victory, both had to finish the rally, Ogier said he was keeping something in reserve today.
"It's not bad, but it's going to be very close I think," he said. "I'm trying to go fast all the time -- not maximum attack because the boss said we had to be sure to be at the finish line. But I'm pushing. I think it's still hard, but it's possible."
Citroen's Dani Sordo has taken the advantage in the very tight battle for third against Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen. The Finn,determined to salvage a podium from a poor weekend for his Ford team, was quickest of the trio on SS14, then lost a little time to Sordo on the next stage so remains fifth, with 8.7sec covering the three drivers.
Petter Solberg was relieved to at least hang on to fourth as his Solberg Citroen developed loose steering during this morning's stages. He lost a lot of time on SS14 before pushing harder, despite the problem, on SS15.
"It was dangerous, but I knew the risks and I was willing to do it. But it's very difficult to drive," said Solberg, who is confident of fixing the issue at service. "I'm losing time but not too much. It could have gone very badly, but I really want this third place."
Henning Solberg retired with battery problems and rising engine temperatures on the Loule stage, elevating his Stobart Ford teammate Matthew Wilson and Adapta Subaru's Mads Ostberg to sixth and seventh.
That means Kimi Raikkonen is now eighth for Citroen Junior, although he is coming under pressure from the battling Federico Villagra (Munchi's Ford) and Khalid Al Qassimi (Ford).
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Ogier Citroen 3h19m57.4s
2. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 10.1s
3. Dani Sordo Citroen + 1m14.4s
4. Petter Solberg Citroen + 1m16.6s
5. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 1m23.1s
6. Matthew Wilson Ford + 5m57.6s
7. Mads Ostberg Subaru + 6m30.5s
8. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen + 9m10.6s
9. Federico Villagra Ford + 9m22.8s
10. Khalid Al Qassimi Ford + 9m26.0s