Loeb, in a Citroen DS3 WRC, can clinch the coveted crown in France by beating team-mate Mikko Hirvonen. He was fastest on the opening brace of stages, held in a mixture of dry and damp conditions, but couldn’t stop Latvala from going quickest by 0.1s on stage four aboard his Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
“The first two stages were really good but I don’t know if my tyre choice was the best choice for the last stage,” said Loeb, who left service in Strasbourg this morning on four hard-compound tyres with two soft options as spares, which he bolted on to the rear for stages three and four.
Latvala, running soft tyres all round, said: “It’s going in the right direction and I’m very happy to be on the pace. I had to take little risks in the middle [part of stage four] but overall I’m happy with the performance. It was really fast in the downhill section and the car was moving a bit.”
Behind Hirvonen, Thierry Neuville, who was fastest on Thursday’s stage through the streets of Strasbourg, is fourth, 20.6s down on Loeb in his Citroen Junior World Rally Team entry. Dani Sordo is fifth in his Prodrive MINI John Cooper Works WRC. He said he would be making set-up changes to the car in service in Colmar.
Petter Solberg, who was third fastest on stage four, is sixth for the factory Ford team with Fiesta privateer Mads Ostberg seventh, Ott Tanak eighth and Evgeny Novikov in ninth. Chris Atkinson is 10th for WRC Team MINI Portugal, one place ahead of Sebastien Chardonnet, who is using his DS3 WRC in competition for the first time.
Sebastien Ogier heads a close battle with Volkswagen Motorsport team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen in 12th place in their Super 2000 Skoda Fabias. Martin Prokop is 14th despite a misfire with Qatar World Rally Team’s Nasser Al-Attiyah 15th. Le Mans racer Romain Dumas is 17th with multiple Touring Car world champion Yvan Muller 21st.
Craig Breen heads the Super 2000 World Rally Championship standings ahead of Hayden Paddon, who dropped a handful of seconds with a high-speed spin on stage four. Elfyn Evans tops the WRC Academy standings by 35.1s. Alastair Fisher, who led after the class after stage one, has retired due to an engine glitch on stage three.