Sebastien Loeb will take a 6.4-second lead over Citroen teammate Mikko Hirvonen into the final day of Rally New Zealand after holding the Finn at bay through the four Saturday afternoon stages.
Hirvonen had closed right in on Loeb at the end of the morning loop, but Loeb opened the gap up again after service and this time Hirvonen was only able to trim it slightly even on stages where he was more comfortable.
Failing to get back ahead of Loeb on Saturday afternoon could mark the end of Hirvonen's bid for victory. Citroen team boss Yves Matton has intimated that a 'hold position' order may be imposed for the final day, and in any case heavy rain is forecast to arrive and Loeb has a greater supply of the appropriate soft tires left over.
Third-placed Petter Solberg (Ford) has the most soft tires of any of the front-runners, but is still 1m33s down on the Citroens. Not far behind Solberg, M-Sport Ford pair Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tanak are battling for fourth. Tanak was closing rapidly on Novikov through Saturday before losing time with a spin on the penultimate stage of the leg.
Qatar Citroen driver Thierry Neuville is staying a safe distance clear of the chasing Dani Sordo's Prodrive Mini in sixth, while Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala continues to set rapid times as he tries to recover after his Friday mistake, but remains two minutes adrift of next target Sordo.
Leading positions after SS15:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 3h27m51.9s
2. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen + 6.4s
3. Petter Solberg Ford + 1m33.3s
4. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford + 2m02.5s
5. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford + 2m23.8s
6. Thierry Neuville Qatar Citroen + 2m47.2s
7. Dani Sordo Prodrive Mini + 3m05.9s
8. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 4m58.0s
9. Armindo Araujo Portugal Mini + 8m21.1s
10. Ken Block Monster Ford + 9m07.6s