M-Sport team principal Malcolm Wilson says Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tanak have saved Ford's fortunes after factory drivers Petter Solberg and Jari-Matti Latvala's Rally Italia mistakes.
Novikov and Tanak, who drive for the second-string M-Sport line-up, hold second and third respectively. Adapta Ford's Mads Ostberg was in the running for second before dropping back with a failing rear differential.
"I've just been talking to Evgeny about his day," said Wilson, "and the maturity and the speed he has shown today have been absolutely fantastic. I can't speak highly enough about his performance through every stage – he has driven consistently, in the middle of the road. He has done the job perfectly.
"And the same for Ott and for Mads. It's a shame Mads has had a problem with his car, otherwise it would have been a perfect day for the customers."
Wilson admitted that he was deeply frustrated to see Solberg and Latvala make mistakes when running second and fourth respectively.
"Obviously, it's frustrating," said Wilson. "Petter was in a good position and Jari-Matti was doing OK. It seems [Latvala] went off the second time while looking down at something which had happened in the first accident. It's a tough end to a tough week."
Both Solberg and Latvala will restart on Saturday under Rally2. They are currently classified 10th and 26th respectively.