Reigning world champion Sebastien Loeb is on course for a record-breaking sixth consecutive Rally Germany crown after establishing a 37.8-second lead ahead of the final day.
The 33-year-old Frenchman – winner of the event in each of the last five years - was consistently quick in his Citroen, reclaiming top spot from overnight leader and fellow Citroen driver Francois Duval in the day’s opening stage and staying in front to hold the advantage over Finland’s Marcus Gronholm, the championship leader, ahead of the remaining five stages on Sunday.
Belgium’s Duval had a mistake-ridden day but fought off the challenge of Gronholm’s compatriot and team-mate Mikko Hirvonen (BP Ford) to hold third place in the standings.
Jan Kopecky (Skoda) is 2.7 seconds ahead of Toni Gardemeister (Citroen) in fifth.
“Everything has been going good today,” said Loeb, who won two of the four tests through the treacherous Baumholder military proving grounds.
“On Friday night it was a good battle, and I was happy to fight with Duval,” said Loeb, who had hoped Duval could hold second ahead of his main rival for the title, Gronholm, who holds a 13-point lead in the drivers’ standings.
“The stages have been quite long and I didn’t want to push too hard because I didn’t want to destroy my tyres. I expected really to beat Duval today and have Marcus closest, so it has all gone to plan.”
Gronholm is concentrating on seeing off Duval in the challenge for second place and consolidating his position. The Belgian is currently 13 seconds behind.
“I don’t know how Francois is doing, but it could be difficult for me tomorrow,” Gronholm said.
Duval went off twice in the day’s opening stage, which was won by Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen, as Loeb re-took the overall lead.
Loeb won stage eight to stretch his advantage over the rest of the field to 24.9 seconds, while Duval dropped more time.
But Gronholm reduced the deficit by claiming the day’s third stage, which saw Manfred Stohl (Kronos Citroen) retire from 10th place with mechanical problems.
Loeb won stage 10, while Duval reclaimed third spot from Hirvonen, who earned his second stage win of the day in stage 11.
Australian Chris Atkinson continued his superb comeback from Friday’s crash, which lost him eight minutes, to win stage 12 and move within 64 seconds of the top 10, while Loeb increased his lead over Championship rival Gronholm to 31 seconds.
Three-time world champion Loeb claimed stage 13 to extend his lead by 4.1 seconds, while Hirvonen and Duval once again swapped places.
However, the Belgian turned a 0.2-second deficit to Hirvonen into a 5.1-second advantage by the end of the day coming third behind Atkinson and Loeb on stage 14.
The Subarus of Petter Solberg and Xevi Pons are seventh and eighth, respectively, with Jari-Matti Latvala (Stobart Ford) ninth.
Atkinson’s triumph on the final test of the day enabled him to pass Britain’s Matthew Wilson (Stobart Ford) to move to 10th, while Guy Wilks (Ramsport Ford) climbed from 20th to 12th.