Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier delivered what he called a "perfect" opening to build a sizable lead at the end of Friday's leg of Rally Australia.
The Frenchman leads the rest of the field by 20 seconds after the final two superspecials around the center of Coffs Harbour. His Polo R WRC was only been beaten on one stage today, and that was by his teammate Jari-Matti Latvala, who won SS10 by a tenth of a second.
"I think it has been perfect today," said Ogier, who can mathematically clinch a first WRC crown this weekend. "We had no problems at all and the driving has been good. Tomorrow the stages are much faster and wider – I prefer these roads."
Mikko Hirvonen remains Ogier's closest challenger after a trouble-free day in his Citroen. The Finn's teammate Kris Meeke had spent much of the day in an impressive third place, but lost out in SS10 when he stalled the DS3 WRC on the line. Meeke's first and only mistake of the day cost him 10 seconds and third place to Thierry Neuville.
Fortunately for Meeke, he remains behind the Belgian in tomorrow's running order, with the positions decided after the final gravel stage rather than the superspecials.
Latvala's stage win was the highlight of an otherwise tricky day for the Volkswagen man, who spent much of it wrestling with the car's setup in search of some comfort in the faster sections of the New South Wales stages.
Mads Ostberg, Andreas Mikkelsen and Evgeny Novikov rounded out the top eight. Ostberg felt his Fiesta was down on power for much of the day. "It's the torque which I think is not the same," he said. "It feels like it's taking too long to build the boost."
Mikkelsen's Polo will also need some overnight attention after he felt something had broken on the car's left-hand side following an eighth-stage impact.
Leading positions after SS10:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Ogier VW 58m46.6s
2. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen +20.0s
4. Thierry Neuville M-Sport Ford +38.1s
3. Kris Meeke Citroen +38.6s
5. Jari-Matti Latvala VW +58.2s
6. Mads Ostberg M-Sport Ford +1m01.7s
7. Andreas Mikkelsen VW +1m03.8s
8. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford +1m09.2s
9. Nathan Quinn Italia Mini +4m02.6s
10. Khalid Al Qassimi Citroen +4m41.4s