Sebastien Ogier is now just three points behind Sebastien Loeb with two rounds of the World Rally Championship to go after winning a hard-fought Rally of France.
Loeb had led the first two stages of his home event, only to suffer a rare Citroen engine problem on SS3 and have to retire. That left his teammate Ogier in a huge three-way battle with Petter Solberg (Solberg Citroen) and Dani Sordo, who was driving a remarkable rally in the new Mini.
All three had spells in the lead, and while Solberg fell back to third with a puncture on Saturday, Sordo kept the pressure on Ogier until the end.
Ogier had got his lead up to 9.5sec on Saturday night, only for Sordo to strike back and get it back down to 4.9sec on day three's first three stages. But Ogier was able to edge clear again on the home stretch and secure a vital fifth win of the year by 6.3sec.
"Very good feeling, it was a bit difficult at the end, I had a not so good drive on the power stage but the most important thing is to get the victory," said Ogier. "For sure it's good for the championship, now we'll have to do two good last rallies of the season."
Sordo admitted to some disappointment at not winning, but was still thrilled to claim Mini's best
"It's incredible," said Sordo. "A little bit disappointed because in the end I didn't take the victory, but we have to be happy."
Ford was unable to fully capitalize on Loeb's misfortune. Both Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala made mistakes on Friday morning, and the former was off the pace all weekend, requiring team orders to receive Latvala's fourth place on the final stage. Latvala checked in early at the pre-SS23 regroup to take a two-minute penalty and fall to fifth. Hirvonen is also now within three points of Loeb in the standings.
FERM Ford driver Dennis Kuipers produced his best WRC performance yet to hold off Henning Solberg's Stobart Ford and take sixth.
Three punctures relegated Mads Ostberg to eighth in another Stobart entry, while teammate Evgeny Novikov had a puncture on Friday then crashed on Saturday.
Ken Block was another man showing his best WRC form to date as he took the Monster Ford to ninth, just ahead of Pierre Campana, driving a Mini entered by the French federation. Armindo Araujo looked set for seventh in another private Mini before crashing out this morning.
Ott Tanak moved into the S2000 championship lead by taking a dominant win on a weekend when rival Juho Hanninen was delayed by a puncture then crashed while trying to fight back.
Leading finishers after SS23:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Ogier Citroen 3h06m20.4s
2. Dani Sordo Mini + 6.3s
3. Petter Solberg Solberg Citroen + 1m23.8s
4. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 3m26.6s
5. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 3m30.3s
6. Dennis Kuipers FERM Ford + 6m42.0s
7. Henning Solberg Stobart Ford + 7m08.3s
8. Mads Ostberg Stobart Ford + 7m58.3s
9. Ken Block Monster Ford + 8m25.5s
10. Pierre Campana France Mini + 8m38.7s