Sebastien Ogier saw off a fierce second day challenge from Andreas Mikkelsen to maintain his narrow lead at LOTOS 71st Rally Poland.
The Volkswagen Motorsport team-mates battled from the first to the last stage on Friday and the rally lead changed hands on no less than four occasions.
For once, Ogier’s road position at the head of the pack had benefited the Frenchman on stages that cut up very quickly – a problem that prompted organisers to cancel two stages in the afternoon. But Ogier left it until the final Mikolajki super special to steal back first place from the hard-charging Norwegian.
Ogier was faster on the 2.5km test for the second successive night to guarantee a vital 0.9s lead heading into Saturday’s ten stages.
Mikkelsen was thrilled with his day and predicted there was more to come on Saturday. “I really enjoying driving on the stages today,” he said. “The feeling is great. If the same feeling is there tomorrow, we will try to keep the pressure on.”
Behind the VW pairing, the battle for the other places was slightly less fierce. Mads Ostberg had leapt into third place earlier in the day when the rutted roads became a problem for the drivers running behind him on the road.
He ended the day 18.6s behind Mikkelsen, but 12.5s ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala. Like Ogier, the VW-driving Finn had benefited from a high road position and moving up four positions on the leaderboard was a good return for his effort on day two.
A frustrated Kris Meeke came home in fifth place. He had lost two places during the day, mostly because he lost vital speed negotiating the deep ruts that greeted his Citroen DS3 WRC on at least two of the stages.
“It’s frustrating when there’s nothing you can do with the ruts,” Meeke said. “They must be a foot deep after only seven cars. It’s terrible.” He was 6.8s ahead of Juho Hanninen who had another consistent day in his Hyundai i20 WRC.
Mikko Hirvonen spent the day battling against a set of pace notes that he deemed too slow for the fast gravel roads he was actually encountering. He finished up in seventh place, 9.3s ahead of Robert Kubica’s identical Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
Elfyn Evans got the better of Thierry Neuville in a last stage battle for ninth place. The Welshman took the place by 1.4s. Neuville tackled the final test without any rear brakes after the handbrake on his Hyundai locked on after the penultimate stage and caused the left-rear caliper to catch fire.
Stephane Lefebvre headed the race for second day honours in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship after another dominant day behind the wheel.
His Citroen DS3 R3T stood 17.3s ahead of Simone Tempestini’s similar machine after the day’s five stages, while Solvakia's Martin Koci completed the top-three, albeit a further 29.3s down.