Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen will start the World Rally Championship finale in Britain just one point apart after Citroen clinched a commanding one-two in the Rally Catalunya.
With Hirvonen only third behind Loeb and teammate Dani Sordo this weekend, the Finn's five-point advantage is down to a single point over Loeb.
Ford had completed a mammoth pre-rally testing program in the hope of finally threatening Citroen's asphalt dominance, and it looked like it might pay off when Hirvonen split Sordo and Loeb on the opening stage of the event. But the C4 duo soon got into their stride and left Hirvonen trailing, and by half-distance Ford had resigned itself to a weekend of damage limitation.
Sordo had led for most of the first two days, before dutifully following Loeb home to complete a perfect result for their team, 12.6sec adrift.
"This one was quite tough because Dani was pushing hard at the start," said Loeb after clinching a fifth straight Catalunya win. "We tried to fight, but we knew we had to not make any mistakes fighting together because it was so important to finish."
Sordo said he always accepted that second place was his target for his home event.
"It's second, but I worked for the team and it's important for the championship for Sebastien to win," he said. "It's a very good weekend."
Despite seeing his points lead reduced, Hirvonen remained confident about his title prospects.
"Now it's all down to GB, so that's going to be some rally," he said. "I'm really looking forward to that fight. It's going to be a really fantastic weekend."
Third was not a foregone conclusion for Hirvonen, as Petter Solberg was revelling in his switch from the outdated Citroen Xsara to a much more competitive C4 and kept the Ford driver on his toes. The former world champion was delighted with the new car's performance and finished only 18sec behind Hirvonen.
Citroen Junior driver Sebastien Ogier lost touch with the leaders when brake problems slowed him on Friday morning, but he came back to beat Hirvonen's team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala – who was struggling for pace all weekend – to sixth.
With Ogier's teammate Evgeny Novikov crashing out on Saturday morning (and then again this morning after rejoining under superally), Stobart Ford's Matthew Wilson took a comfortable seventh. Eighth went to Munchi's Ford's Federico Villagra, who beat Stobart driver Henning Solberg.
It looked like Junior champion Martin Prokop would score a fifth win of 2009 as he overhauled and pulled away from early leader Hans Weijs. But a leg two crash ended Prokop's rally and left Weijs clear to take a dominant maiden Junior class victory.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap 1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 3h22m14.7s 2. Dani Sordo Citroen + 12.0s 3. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 54.1s 4. Petter Solberg Citroen + 1m12.4s 5. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 1m41.6s 6. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 2m49.8s 7. Matthew Wilson Ford + 7m15.5s 8. Federico Villagra Ford + 8m28.1s 9. Henning Solberg Ford + 9m07.6s10. Dany Snobeck Peugeot + 10m56.0s