Latvala finds form to lead in Portugal
Finn tops standings after tough opening leg
Gilbert, the championship leader, did well to keep out of trouble over the leg's six rough and rocky stages - conditions that forced out many of his DS 3 R3 driving rivals.
A cautious run this morning left Gilbert perfectly placed to strike in the afternoon, when two stage wins and problems for the early leaders moved him into an 8.2sec lead on the final stage from fellow Frenchman Terry Folb.
Gilbert said: "We tried to find a good rhythm during the first loop. We used it to check everything with the car and the notes. We changed the set-up at the service and continued without taking any risks. This afternoon, it was very very rough. I've never seen anything like that before!"
It was a case of deja-vu for Folb, who trailed Gilbert by almost the same amount of time after the opening day of Rallye Monte-Carlo. "It's really good, but just like then I couldn't expect to be in this position!" he said. "The second loop was very hard. We had a rear right puncture in SS6 but managed to finish the stage. For my first event on gravel in WRC, it's very positive."
Ole Christian Veiby, third in the championship, lies third tonight, 31.6sec adrift of Folb. "These have been the roughest stages I've ever done, but I'm learning all the time. The car is working well and no punctures," said the Norwegian.
Pierre-Louis Loubet lies fourth, 34.9sec behind Veiby, with Henri Haapamaki breathing down his neck 11.5sec further back in fifth. Jean-Rene Perry, Federico Della Casa and Kornel Lukacs complete the Junior runners.
Seven drivers failed to complete the day, including early leaders Osian Pryce, who suffered a broken alternator, and Simone Tempestini who broke a wheel.
Also on the retirement list were Dan McKenna (went off), Charlotte Dalmasso (radiator), Matthieu Margaillan (went off), Dean Raftery (electrics) and Mohammed Al Mutawaa (broken wheel).