Sebastien Loeb has stretched his Rally of France lead to 42.9 seconds, with a stunning performance on the event's longest stage pulling him comfortably clear of his rivals.
Amid varying grip from both rainfall and mud being pulled onto the roads, the reigning champion beat nearest rival and Citroen teammate Dani Sordo by 18s on the 35-kilometer Pays d'Ormont, the third of this morning's four stages. Loeb admitted he had put on a charge to try and give himself a safety margin this afternoon, when the stage conditions are expected to even worse.
"It was a good morning, we were pushing hard in some stages, but it's so tricky," he said. "Also I think in some parts I'm putting some mud on for other cars, so there is time from that. I've tried to make a difference in the morning because I know this afternoon will be difficult."
Sordo lost a little time when he stalled at the start of Pays d'Ormont, but he benefited from the pursuing Sebastien Ogier going off the road on the same stage. The Citroen Junior driver continued having fallen 17s behind Sordo.
"I made a mistake – I lost control of the car on the brakes, I went straight and I hit a tree," said Ogier. "But it's OK; luckily there was not a lot of damage on my car.
"It's a shame because I had very good speed and I was able to come close to Dani. Now it's a big gap. But the rally is still long."
Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala also went off course on Pays d'Ormont, and had already lost fourth place to Petter Solberg (Solberg Citroen) on the previous stages. But he took a commanding win on the Salm stage and moved back to within 7.5sec of Solberg.
"It's because we are driving on gravel on tarmac tyres, so I think that's helping me," said Latvala of his Salm performance, which saw him half a second per kilometre faster than anyone else. "We took a few risks, because Petter is pushing very hard now."
His teammate Mikko Hirvonen remains sixth, with Munchi's Ford driver Federico Villagra up to seventh after Kimi Raikkonen went off on SS10 and lost nearly 40 minutes. Stobart Ford's Matthew Wilson was closing on Villagra for a while but is now 33s behind again.
With Ken Block (Monster Ford) delayed by a hydraulic issue in service this morning and Khalid Al Qassimi losing time with an incident on SS11, the leading S2000 cars of Henning Solberg and Eyvind Brynildsen are now running in the overall top 10.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 2h01m19.4s
2. Dani Sordo Citroen + 42.9s
3. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 59.8s
4. Petter Solberg Citroen + 1m22.1s
5. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 1m29.6s
6. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 3m15.6s
7. Federico Villagra Ford + 9m59.6s
8. Matthew Wilson Ford + 10m32.7s
9. Henning Solberg Ford + 12m01.3s
10. Eyvind Brynildsen Skoda + 12m24.8s