Craig Breen won his first stage of Rally Estonia on pure merit to keep the pressure on leader Kalle Rovanperä, as Thierry Neuville moved up to third position.
Breen tied with Rovanperä on SS3 to share the stage win, but his was a notional time after he was caught in the dust behind an ailing Gus Greensmith.
On SS8, the repeat pass of Kanepi, Breen was undeniably the quickest driver as he outpaced Rovanperä by 1.2 seconds to reduce his deficit to 6.7s overall.
“The first thing I said to Paul [Nagle, co-driver] over the line was that was the worst stage of the day; maybe I need worse stages more often,” said Breen.
Rovanperä admitted he “cannot do better than this” and predicted that “Craig can be faster”.
He was proved right as he struggled to find grip with the set-up of his Toyota Yaris WRC on the rougher conditions of the second pass.
“Let’s see what we can do on the next one,” he said.
Neuville’s steady pursuit of Sébastien Ogier bore fruit of the penultimate stage on Friday, as he moved 0.5s ahead of the World Rally Championship points leader.
Neuville stopped the clocks 3.4s quicker than Ogier could manage on SS8 and was also 3.6s quicker than Elfyn Evans’ Toyota.
“The speed sometimes is there,” said a conflicted Neuville. “In this stage [it] was working well.
“I have to try everything I can and stay like this. If we can stay ahead of Ogier tonight it will be a good move for tomorrow’s road position.”
After dropping two tenths to Ogier, Evans ended the stage 16s back from his team-mate despite enjoying a marginally better road position.
“I just feel like I’m not pushing enough basically,” he said. “It feels fine but it’s not quite enough on the edge.”
A slightly bemused Teemu Suninen was unhappy with his lack of pace for M-Sport at the end of the stage, but he still made notable inroads into Pierre-Louis Loubet’s sixth position.
Loubet was 7.9s slower than Suninen on SS8 and sits 22s ahead overall.
Andreas Mikkelsen retained the WRC2 lead but is now being chased by Nikolay Gryazin as Mads Østberg picked up a 10s penalty for a jump start on SS8.
1 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai) 8m00.2s
2 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +1.2s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +4.4s
4 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +7.8s
5 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +8s
6 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (M-Sport Ford) +13s
Leading positions after SS8
1 Rovanperä/Halttunen 57m26.7s
2 Breen/Nagle +6.7s
3 Neuville/Wydaeghe +48.8s
4 Ogier/Ingrassia +49.3s
5 Evans/Martin +1m05.3s
6 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Florian Haut-Labourdette (2C Competition Hyundai) +2m33.8s
7 Suninen/Markkula +2m55.8s
8 Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (Škoda) +3m27.1s6 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Florian Haut-Labourdette (2C Competition Hyundai) +2m33.8s
7 Suninen/Markkula +2m55.8s
8 Alexey Lukyanuk/Yaroslav Fedorov (Škoda) +3m07.1s
9 Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (Škoda) +3m27.1s
10 Emil Lindholm/Reeta Hämäläinen (Škoda) +3m48s