Jari-Matti Latvala has clung on to the lead of the Rally GB, but Sebastien Loeb is just 1.4 seconds behind with two stages remaining.
Running first on the road in very cold and icy conditions, Ford driver Latvala lost time to Loeb's chasing Citroen in both this morning's early stages.
Loeb's initial split times in each stage suggested he was set to leap into the lead. However Latvala was able to keep the champion at bay - improving his pace as the stages progressed.
"It's looking interesting now," said Latvala. "I lost some time at the beginning of the stage, but then I increased my confidence towards the end of the stage and I pushed harder.
"It's quite difficult, because sometimes you have very good grip under braking, and then suddenly there is ice. I try to drive as quick as I can in these conditions, but if Seb is faster I can't do anything."
Having been given clearance from Citroen to push for victory, Loeb said he was thoroughly enjoying the battle, even though he was frustrated by Latvala's late-stage improvements.
"It's a really good fight. I tried really hard," said Loeb. "I start the stages faster than Jari-Matti, and then he gets faster and faster, and finally at the end I couldn't match the rhythm. It was the same in the stage before."
Dani Sordo has been ordered to drive cautiously in the second Citroen to ensure the team win the manufacturers' championship, and admitted that he might therefore lose third place to Petter Solberg.
But with Subaru admitting that they are particularly short of pace when conditions are more icy, Solberg has fallen away from Sordo this morning rather than closing on the Citroen.
"I tried, but it's full ice and I don't have a chance there at all," said Solberg.
It was a similar story for the elder Solberg brother in today's opening stage, as Stobart Ford driver Henning Solberg dropped back from fifth-placed Per-Gunnar Andersson's Suzuki, although he improved his pace in SS17.
"I'm not so brave and I don't have so much experience with this tyre on the ice," said Solberg. "I'm not brave enough in these conditions - I have to know where ice is, and it's not easy."
Andersson, who felt he had been excessively cautious this morning, is 11.3 seconds ahead of Solberg going into the final loop.
Leading positions after SS17:
Pos Driver Car Time
1. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford 2h15:31.2
2. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 1.4
3. Dani Sordo Citroen + 42.9
4. Petter Solberg Subaru + 1:29.3
5. Per-Gunnar Andersson Suzuki + 2:57.5
6. Henning Solberg Ford + 3:08.8
7. Francois Duval Ford + 3:48.1
8. Toni Gardemeister Suzuki + 4:28.3
9. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 5:21.2
10. Matthew Wilson Ford + 6:56.2