Freddy Loix is holding off Kris Meeke by just 0.2 second halfway through the final day's action in the Belgium Ypres Rally, round five of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
The Belgian is using his massive experience of the event to stave off the current championship leader, while drama continues to unfold in the wake of the two Peugeot stars.
Meeke set three fastest times on the opening five stages of the day in Langemark, Westouter and Heuveland, while Loix could manage only one fastest time in Kemmelberg, going into service with his lead reduced to two tenths of a second.
"I think Kris is going very quickly but I'm not on the limit," Loix said. "I'm not taking risks but I can go quicker -- I think we need to fight it out over the next few stages."
Meeke responded: "The feeling's quite good but I haven't got a clue about the times while I'm out there and you know that the Belgian guys have an edge on this event. It's my first ever time here and you come up on the limit to a blind sixth-gear corner and you can't help but hesitate a little."
Skoda's Jan Kopecky has been the only man within striking distance of the leading pair, and remains 18s adrift with one fastest stage time – despite a road traffic accident on the way to SS9 in Kemmelberg.
The Czech asphalt star collided with a motorbike on the road section between stages, incurring considerable damage to his Fabia S2000.
"A motorbike came up fast behind us and I didn't see him," he said. "The guy's OK but I still feel bad."
A pitched battle is being waged for fourth place between the second works Skoda of Finland's Juho Hanninen and the Abarth Grande Punto of Italian Giandomenico Basso – the winner in Ypres in 2006. They go into the final loop with just six seconds between them.
Defending IRC champion Nicolas Voullioz went out on SS8 when he got caught behind the similar Peugeot 207 S2000 of Polish driver Michal Solowow, who was recovering from a spin. Voullioz was frustrated not to be let through and attempted to overtake – ending up in a Flanders field.
Jasper van den Heuvel's dominant display among the Group N cars has taken him to seventh overall in his Mitsubishi, having been more than a minute clear of Franz Wittmann's similar machine before the Austrian dropped out on the way to SS11 with technical problems.
In the 2WD Cup flying Dutchman Marcel Piepers has carried Honda's colors with aplomb on the Japanese giant's return to the IRC. His Civic Type R holds a comfortable 1m17s lead over the regular pacesetter Denis Millet's Peugeot 207.