Sebastien Loeb moved closer to an eighth World Rally title as Mikko Hirvonen lost nearly four minutes in an incident on the Dyfnant stage this morning.
The title rivals had previously been enjoying an extremely close battle at the front, as Loeb pulled out a 3.8sec lead over Hirvonen on opener Gartheiniog, before Hirvonen reduced that gap to 1.3sec on Dyfi West then moved into a 0.4sec lead on Dyfi East.
But, on the following Dyfnant stage, Hirvonen stopped for several minutes then limped to the finished with a damaged car, losing 3m52s to Loeb and falling to 13th place. That meant Loeb moved into the lead by 17.7sec over Hirvonen's Ford teammate Jari-Matti Latvala, although the points leader said he could not relax at all in the tough conditions.
"I found it very tricky because it's foggy on the top and quite a lot of fog in the stage and a lot of mud," said Loeb. "It was really, really difficult. I had a few moments in the stage but we are here, so we are quite happy with the situation at the moment. Now we need to see what happens with Mikko."
With Petter Solberg losing time with a puncture on Dyfnant, Mads Ostberg has moved up to third in the Stobart Ford, partly thanks to his own improved pace, but also because of dramas for the Minis.
Dani Sordo went off the road on SS4 when fifth and had to retire, while Kris Meeke fell from sixth to 11th when the alternator belt came off, costing him power and two-and-a-half minutes on SS7.
Leading positions after SS7:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 48m37.7s
2. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 17.7s
3. Mads Ostberg Stobart Ford + 59.7s
4. Petter Solberg Solberg Citroen + 1m13.4s
5. Henning Solberg Stobart Ford + 1m39.0s
6. Ott Tanak Stobart Ford + 1m52.9s
7. Matthew Wilson Stobart Ford + 2m07.8s
8. Kimi Raikkonen Ice 1 Citroen + 2m26.6s
9. Dennis Kuipers FERM Ford + 2m32.7s
10. Evgeny Novikov Abu Dhabi Ford + 2m49.6s