Sebastien Ogier has inched ahead of Petter Solberg in the battle for victory in Japan, which has become a two-horse race after problems for Mikko Hirvonen.
Although overnight leader Solberg (Solberg Citroen) has not been too badly hampered by running first on the road this morning, he has still lost time to works Citroen driver Ogier, who took the lead by winning the Naekawa stage. However Ogier was then frustrated with his driving on the following Sunagawa stage, where he was only 0.2sec quicker than Solberg, giving the Frenchman a 2.9sec lead. The crews will now repeat this morning's three stages before heading for a final decider on the Sapporo superspecial.
Hirvonen started the day second, but was immediately hampered by a differential problem affecting his Ford's gearchanges. With no service today, he looks destined to lose time through every stage, and has already fallen to fifth.
"If you can just keep the throttle flat all the time, then it changes," said Hirvonen. "The problem is when it's very slow and twisty, I can't be on the throttle and get the revs high enough."
The Finn's problems have set up a battle between Dani Sordo (Citroen Junior) and Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford) for the final podium position. Latvala closed on Sordo through the first two stages before the Spaniard responded on Sunagawa, restoring his advantage to 5.6sec.
Sebastien Loeb remains sixth for Citroen, but finally took his first two stage wins of the weekend this morning and is set to take fifth from the troubled Hirvonen later today. Kimi Raikkonen (Citroen Junior) crashed out of eighth on today's first stage.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Ogier Citroen 2h48m21.8s
2. Petter Solberg Citroen + 2.9s
3. Dani Sordo Citroen + 24.9s
4. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 30.5s
5. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 34.4s
6. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 46.6s
7. Henning Solberg Ford + 2m44.0s
8. Federico Villagra Ford + 9m01.6s
9. Jari Ketomaa Ford + 13m05.2s
10. Martin Prokop Ford + 13m51.0s