Thierry Neuville extended his Ypres Rally lead on SS14 Dikkebus, but a fighting Craig Breen remains within reach of his team-mate and is only 6.6 seconds behind.
The two Hyundai Motorsport drivers both have previous experience of the rally, unlike the rest of their World Rally Car rivals, and so have streaked away from their opposition.
Comments by Hyundai team principal Andrea Adamo suggested that the pair may be asked to hold their 1-2 formation, which was put to Breen as he finished SS14.
“Who said that? Someone said I had to hold the position?” he replied sarcastically.
“There’s one side of me that says the main target is to bring the two cars home, but the other side of me is saying let’s think about this stage that I’ve done so many times.
“I don’t know when this rally will be in the world championship again, and I have a big PlayStation in front of me so I’m just trying to enjoy it.”
Breen is the defending winner of the rally, but his experience wasn’t quite enough to beat Neuville on the second run through Dikkebus as the current leader went 1.6s faster.
“This one was a little bit more dirty, but I had good information from my gravel crew,” said Neuville.
“I had a clean run through. We did some changes on the cars on midday service, and I did some adaptations for this stage to get a little bit more grip and it was working a little bit better.”
After winning the first stage of the loop, Sébastien Ogier outpaced his Toyota team-mates again and there is now 8.9 seconds covering the three Yaris WRCs fighting for third place. He was also faster than Breen through the stage.
Elfyn Evans now heads Kalle Rovanperä by 3.7s after shipping 2.1s to him on SS14 and “being punished” for a poor start to the stage.
“I didn’t have a great stage,” said Evans. “I lost some time on the first corner, I just went a bit wide.”
He added that “for sure, [Ogier] is driving well”.
Ott Tänak continues to run in sixth, and said “for sure it’s more enjoyable” as he’s safe in his position and can just pick up experience of the stages in case the rally returns to the WRC calendar.
The slowest of the World Rally Cars was the Ford Fiesta WRC of Gus Greensmith, who has now fully solved his intercom issue but still had a strange moment in the cockpit on the stage.
“On one of the jumps towards the beginning, I don’t know what came in the car but it looked like sparks and I have no idea what it was,” said the M-Sport driver. “But it was a strange one, that’s for sure.”
Leading the WRC2 class is Oliver Solberg in the new Hyundai i20 N Rally2, which is still without power-steering and leaving the young Swede exhausted – even with the assistance of co-driver Aaron Johnston on the handbrake.
“I have never been so tired in my life, but it’s part of the game,” panted Solberg at the end of the stage.
Belgian Rally Championship runner Sebastien Bedoret is looking at home in the WRC3 lead, as he extended his advantage in the world championship support class to 1.9s over Yohan Rossel after going 0.6s faster than his main rival.
Solberg’s car trouble meant he dropped 44.4s to Bedoret, who is the quickest of the Rally2 runners in his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo, and 36.1s to his closest WRC2 rival and team-mate Jari Huttunen. On the past four stages, Solberg’s lead has shrunk from 6m27s to 4m43.5s.
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 6m19.1s
2 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +1.4s
3 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai) +1.6s
4 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +2s
5 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +3.4s
6 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +4.1s
Leading positions after SS14
1 Neuville/Wydaeghe 1h55m18.3s
2 Breen/Nagle +6.6s
3 Evans/Martin +40.4s
4 Rovanperä/Halttunen +44.1s
5 Ogier/Ingrassia +49.3s
6 Tänak/Järveoja +3m49.4s
7 Sebastien Bedoret/Francois Gilbert (Škoda) +9m43.7s
8 Yohan Rossel/Alexandre Coria (Citroën) +9m45.6s
9 Pieter Jan Michiel Cracco/Jaspen Vermeulen (Škoda) +10m02.6s
10 Vincent Verschueren/Filip Cuvelier (Volkswagen) +10m38.4s