Sebastien Ogier edged away from Dani Sordo through the second afternoon of the Rally of France, and will take a 9.5-second lead into the final day.
The Citroen and Mini had gone to midday service in an extraordinarily close lead battle, but Ogier raised his game this afternoon, with a string of stage wins allowing him to pull out a small gap.
"It's a little bit more, but still it's not comfortable," said Ogier. "There are still 40 kilometers to go and for sure I'd prefer to be in my position tonight, but we have to drive well tomorrow."
Sordo has not given up on pushing for victory during Sunday's six stages.
"We are so close. We will see tomorrow," he said. "It is a short day but difficult, but some parts have gravel. There will maybe be dust in the morning.
"We really have nothing to lose. Today we did a big push but not enough in the end. Tomorrow we will try to continue like that."
Petter Solberg has drifted away in a lonely third in his Solberg Citroen after an earlier puncture.
Sordo is now the only works Mini in the rally after Kris Meeke crashed out of fifth place on the Hohlandsbourg stage. Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle escaped unhurt from the substantial accident.
Jari-Matti Latvala was fastest on SS16, though he has little chance of catching Solberg and will have to eventually relinquish fourth to his title-chasing Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen. Knowing that team orders will be applied at some point before the finish, and with no need to push to catch Meeke now, Hirvonen is now taking it easy in fifth.
Meeke's retirement has elevated Dennis Kuipers' FERM Ford to sixth, though he has Armindo Araujo (Italia Mini) and Henning Solberg (Stobart Ford) not far behind.
Leading positions after SS18:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Ogier Citroen 2h42m24.3s
2. Dani Sordo Mini + 9.5s
3. Petter Solberg Solberg Citroen + 51.9s
4. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 1m36.4s
5. Kris Meeke Mini + 1m21.6s
6. Dennis Kuipers FERM Ford + 5m59.3s
7. Armindo Araujo Italia Mini + 6m08.8s
8. Henning Solberg Stobart Ford + 6m25.6s
9. Mads Ostberg Stobart Ford + 7m16.4s
10. Pierre Campana France Mini + 7m44.2s