Freddy Loix continues to lead the Ypres Rally, but despite not being able to get ahead of the Belgian, Kris Meeke's title hopes have been boosted by points leader Juho Hanninen crashing out
The Skoda was running fourth when it went into a ditch on SS4 this evening, putting Hanninen out of the first leg.
Up front, Hanninen's temporary team-mate Loix - called up for his local rally to boost Skoda's chances - stretched his lead to six seconds by winning SS4. Meeke then trimmed a second from that on the next stage, and hoped he had reduced the gap further on SS6.
"On the first stage of the loop Freddy took a lot of time and I couldn't do any more," Meeke admitted.
"On the last one we nicked 1s back. Here I had nigh on a perfect stage, I couldn't have found another tenth. If he beats that, well done to him."
Loix did beat Meeke's time, but only by 0.1s - putting them 5.8s apart going into Saturday's massive 13 stages.
"I'm not over the limit, but I'm on it," said Loix as he completed SS6.
Jan Kopecky is still third in the other works Skoda, with Meeke's Kronos Peugeot team-mate Thierry Neuville up to fourth after Hanninen's exit.
Belgian pair Pieter Tsjoen and Bernd Casier fill the top six while Andreas Mikkelsen is slipping away in seventh but staying ahead of local legend Patrick Snijers.
Proton's arrival in the 2010 Intercontinental Rally Challenge has got off to a bad start, with works MEM pairing Chris Atkinson and Alister McRae, and satellite driver Tom Cave, all retiring this evening with engine issues.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap 1. Freddy Loix Skoda 54m33.6s 2. Kris Meeke Peugeot + 5.8s 3. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 22.1s 4. Thierry Neuville Peugeot + 45.7s 5. Pieter Tsjoen Peugeot + 1m10.5s 6. Bernd Casier Skoda + 1m37.6s 7. Andreas Mikkelsen Ford + 1m58.2s 8. Patrick Snijers Peugeot + 2m07.2s 9. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot + 2m14.8s 10. Jasper van den Heuvel Mitsubishi + 2m30.5s
The fifth Intercontinental Rally Challenge was the best yet, and it was Skoda UK driver Andreas Mikkelsen who emerged as champion from a tense five-way shootout at the season finale. Matt Beer reviews the season