Sébastien Ogier kept Hayden Paddon at bay during Saturday's second leg of Rally Sweden to take a seemingly secure lead into the final day.
Although Paddon carved into the Frenchman's advantage in the snowy forest speed tests, Ogier repelled the Kiwi to hold a 17.1sec lead in his Volkswagen Polo R with just the live TV Power Stage remaining tomorrow afternoon.
Up to 10cm of snow filled the forests overnight and the slippery surface was bad news for road opener Ogier. He ploughed a clean line which Paddon, starting six cars further back, took advantage of to pile on the pressure.
Although Ogier won the opening speed test to widen the margin to more than half a minute, the snow was deeper in the following test and Paddon cut the deficit to 8.8sec on his debut in Hyundai's 2016-specification i20.
Despite a heart-stopping sideways slide in the penultimate stage, Ogier regained vital seconds in the final three tests while Paddon managed the wear on his studded Michelin tyres as gravel reappeared on the roads.
"I was completely flat out. I took so many risks and couldn't have gone any faster," admitted Ogier.
Paddon appeared to have settled for second, explaining: "It's about maintaining my position now. We went into the penultimate stage 10sec behind Ogier and that's like a minute to anyone else. We need to be smart."
Mads Østberg lost third in the opening stage after flirting with a ditch, but quickly reasserted himself in the final podium place in his Ford Fiesta RS, 25.2sec behind Paddon.
Andreas Mikkelsen briefly demoted his fellow Norwegian, but the Volkswagen Polo R pilot lost any realistic chance of a top three finish when he entered a corner too fast courtesy of an over-optimistic pace note and spun. He was 25.1sec behind Østberg.
Although he was uncomfortable on frozen gravel sections, Estonia's Ott Tänak was fifth in another Fiesta RS, while a front left puncture slowed Dani Sordo and the Spanish i20 driver fell back from the podium battle into sixth.
Henning Solberg was seventh, despite losing a handful of seconds after stalling the engine of his Fiesta RS at a stage start. He is under pressure from Craig Breen, who was only 3.6sec behind after a strong debut in Citroën's DS 3. WRC 2 leader Elfyn Evans and second-placed Pontus Tidemand completed the leaderboard.
Jari-Matti Latvala won two stages as he climbed to 27th following his disastrous opening leg. The only major retirements were Eric Camilli, who rolled his Fiesta RS heavily, and Yazeed Al Rajhi, who suffered broken steering after hitting a rock.
Sunday's final leg comprises just the 15.87km Värmullsåsen Power Stage before the afternoon finish in Karlstad.
Head to WRC+ to see the latest onboard and video reports from Rally Sweden.
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