Petter Solberg will lead into the final day of Rally Japan, in part due to his rivals slowing to ensure the Norwegian cleans the road for them tomorrow morning.
Solberg had fallen from first to third behind Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala and Citroen's Sebastien Ogier when he incurred a jump-start penalty this morning. One of those places was regained in standard fashion as Latvala suffered a broken driveshaft near the end of Kamuycep 2 and had to limp through the following Kina stage plus two runs through the Sapporo superspecial with drive to only three wheels, dropping him to fifth.
Ogier then slowed on Kina to ensure he dropped behind Solberg, and Mikko Hirvonen – who had been right behind Solberg in the standings – did likewise, both suspecting that running first on the road on Sunday would be costly if the stages are dusty.
Their tactics mean that Solberg will start Sunday 3.7 seconds ahead of Hirvonen, with Ogier a further 1.7sec back in third. Solberg remained bullish though, confident that road conditions in the morning would be manageable.
"I'm pleased with the speed having been first on the road all day," he said. "I don't care if I start first tomorrow. We have been there many times. Anything is possible."
Some quick times this afternoon from Dani Sordo have kept the Citroen Junior driver in contention too. He holds fourth and is only 15.3sec behind Solberg. Citroen team leader Sebastien Loeb has been unable to make much progress today and is still sixth.
Henning Solberg remains a lonely seventh for Stobart Ford, while Kimi Raikkonen (Citroen Junior) has pulled clear of Federico Villagra (Munchi's Ford) in eighth but needs attrition ahead to get any higher as he now faces a five-minute gulf to Solberg.
Outside the WRC class, Jari Ketomaa and Patrik Flodin are dominating S2000 and Production respectively.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Petter Solberg Citroen 2h28m46.1s
2. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 3.7s
3. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 5.4s
4. Dani Sordo Citroen + 15.3s
5. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 30.7s
6. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 37.9s
7. Henning Solberg Ford + 2m07.2s
8. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen + 7m01.3s
9. Federico Villagra Ford + 7m42.1s
10. Jari Ketomaa Ford + 11m33.3s