Sebastien Loeb looks set for a comfortable victory in the Jordan Rally, but was unhappy about the tactics both manufacturers had used to try and ensure the best road positions for their main contenders this morning.
Loeb was set to run first on the road today having led at the end of day two. Citroen's hope was that Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala would start second, but a communication problem meant it did not slow Sebastien Ogier down on Friday's final stage and the Citroen Junior driver accidentally took second place from Latvala.
That would have potentially given Latvala a big speed advantage today as both Loeb and Ogier cleared the dusty road for him. Keen to avoid this, Citroen arranged for Ogier to check into service five minutes late this morning, giving him a 50 second penalty and dropping him to fifth.
But then Ford asked Mikko Hirvonen, rejoining under superally following his Friday crash, to leave service early so he jumped up the running order and took to the stage between Loeb and Latvala, the hefty penalties for this not mattering to Ford as Hirvonen was already half an hour adrift.
Citroen responded again by making Ogier check into SS14 eight minutes early so that he ended up first on the road, cleaning the stages for Loeb. A further eight minutes of penalties for that dropped Ogier right back to eighth place.
With Ogier sweeping the worst of the dust away for him, Loeb was able to maintain good pace on today's first loop and heads for the mid-morning service 37.8s ahead of Latvala.
"It's not so nice to see these moves and these positions, but we have to deal with it," said the frustrated Loeb. "It shows the limit of the regulations. I do my job: I'm pushing hard trying to win the rally."
Although the road position shuffles had helped Loeb, Latvala admitted that the world champion's pace had been incredible today and he would have been hard to beat anyway.
"He's the best in the world at running on a dirty surface," said Latvala. "We might have had a chance if he had been first on the road."
Petter Solberg has kept Latvala under pressure and is 20s further back in third, with Dani Sordo now having a conservative run to fourth in the second Citroen.
Ogier is back up to seventh, having taken the spot from his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen on SS17. His target on the final loop will be to snatch sixth from Federico Villagra (Munchi's Ford).
Xevi Pons now has a huge S2000 lead as his main rival Bernardo Sousa put his Ford on its side on yesterday's last stage, then retired when his car refused to restart after stopping to change a damaged wheel on the road back to service. With all the other class frontrunners using superally after Thursday's mayhem, Pons leads S2000 with a bizarre 12-minute margin.
In Production WRC, Patrik Flodin has pulled 1m36s clear of pursuer Armindo Araujo.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 3h16m24.3s
2. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 37.8s
3. Petter Solberg Citroen + 58.6s
4. Dani Sordo Citroen + 1m36.1s
5. Matthew Wilson Ford + 6m50.9s
6. Federico Villagra Ford + 9m22.1s
7. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 9m56.9s
8. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen + 10m23.9s
9. Henning Solberg Ford + 12m54.8s
10. Xevi Pons Ford + 14m31.8s