Ott Tänak responded to Elfyn Evans’s charge on SS18, reducing the Toyota driver’s lead by 1.3 seconds.
SS18 was effectively a dress rehearsal for the drivers, with the 8.75-mile route of Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec also hosting the powerstage later on to end the weekend.
Some drivers were struggling to find confidence on the day’s second stage, and Tänak was one of those, despite taking a small chunk out of the Toyota driver ahead to reduce the gap down to 29.2s.
“It’s hard work… unfortunately there’s one more time [on this stage],” he said.
For Evans it’s now a case of getting to the end without any mistakes as he eyes up the Croatia Rally victory.
“It was pretty dirty in there and I had a few surprises at the beginning in terms of getting caught out on the dirt,” he said. “So I took it easy. I’m trying not to do anything silly.”
Kalle Rovanperä once again took time away from Sébastien Ogier, bridging another 5.4s to his team-mate to further tighten his grasp on fourth place.
The pair are now separated by 6.2s with two stages remaining, but Rovanperä is keen to keep pushing.
“Pretty okay. I was struggling with the crossed tires a bit and it was more tricky than I expected,” he explained. “There were a few places where we could be faster with being clean and also a bit more brave.”
The reigning world champion was doing enough to impress Ogier, who confirmed he wouldn’t take many risks to try and grab fourth.
“Kalle is driving well. I couldn’t really push because I was struggling with a lot of locking on the front,” he said.
“There’s no point to take too many risks for fourth place. I am trying but it doesn’t work at the moment.”
Takamoto Katsuta has now settled into sixth place nicely after jumping Pierre-Louis Loubet on Sunday’s first stage with the gap now 50.4s.
But the Toyota driver said the feeling in his GR Yaris Rally1 wasn’t quite there on SS18.
“In the previous stage the feeling was very good, but this one was super tricky,” he admitted.
“I felt like I was on ice sometimes and you have no grip. But we are here and I will try to find something better for the powerstage.”
Thierry Neuville – who says he is taking it easy on Sunday morning to give maximum push on the powerstage – was fastest on that Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec test, but he used that run took advantage of the pass to reinforce his pacenotes ahead of the day’s final stage.
“The road was quite clean and much drier than in the recce. We tried to enjoy the run through and confirm the pace notes for the powerstage,” he explained.
“We are going to try hard but I’m not sure we are going to be able to take a lot of points.”
Elsewhere in the field Esapekka Lappi continued to drive towards the end of the rally in third, 32.8s ahead of Rovanperä and 32.7s behind Tänak.