Mikko Hirvonen has defied expectations and taken control of Rally Sweden despite running first on the road on the final morning.
With Mads Ostberg, Petter Solberg, Jari-Matti Latvala and Sebastien Ogier all within 16 seconds of Hirvonen after leg two, the overnight leader was expected to come under huge pressure today.
But far from being caught by his rivals, Hirvonen (Ford) won all three stages on the first loop this morning, and stretched his lead to 13 seconds over Ostberg.
Hirvonen said conditions had been fine for him, but suspected the second pass would be harder.
"It was okay. The road is now nice and smooth, there are no ruts or anything," Hirvonen reported after the first stage. "I think I have to push on now because this afternoon is going to be more difficult for me."
Ostberg (Stobart Ford) remains a contented second, reckoning victory is now unlikely.
"We are pushing really, really hard," said Ostberg. "I'm absolutely on the limit for myself now. If I try to go faster now, I start doing mistakes. I'm not able to go much quicker now.
"I'm very happy - he's one of the best drivers in the world and I can guarantee he's pushing hard as well."
Petter Solberg has also drifted away from Hirvonen as his Solberg Citroen developed a damper problem. He holds third, half a minute off the lead now.
Ogier's Citroen picked up a puncture right at the end of SS17 Torntop and dropped a few seconds, though he still gained fourth from Latvala after the Ford hit a snow bank and lost time. Latvala admitted he was lacking confidence as he then struggled through the next two stages.
Sebastien Loeb is cruising to the finish in sixth in the other Citroen. Ford privateer P-G Andersson has now taken seventh from Kimi Raikkonen (Ice 1 Citroen).
The closest battle is now Ford duo Khalid Al Qassimi and Matthew Wilson's squabble over the final points. After an error by Al Qassimi in the Abu Dhabi car this morning and a jump-start penalty for Stobart's Wilson, they are just 0.4s apart.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap 1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 2h59m02.7s 2. Mads Ostberg Ford + 13.7s 3. Petter Solberg Citroen + 30.5s 4. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 39.2s 5. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford + 51.6s 6. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 2m16.7s 7. P-G Andersson Ford + 6m08.8s 8. Kimi Raikkonen Citroen + 6m38.2s 9. Khalid Al Qassimi Ford + 9m34.7s 10. Matthew Wilson Ford + 9m35.1s