Kris Meeke has stormed to the lead at Rally Catalunya, on a day that Sebastien Ogier strengthened his chances of winning the World Rally Championship title after rival Thierry Neuville hit trouble.
The Citroen driver leads the Ford ace by 13s with just one day remaining.
Meeke is on the verge of winning his second WRC round of a troubled season, which saw him win in Mexico before being benched for the Poland after numerous crashes.
He was outstanding on the second day in Spain as he took advantage from the switch from the Day 1 gravel to the tarmac running on the second leg.
He won the opening speed test to vault from third to first and controlled his advantage through the remaining six special stages near Salou.
Behind him, a quartet of rivals battled furiously for the remaining podium places.
“This morning we were able to catch everyone on the hop. This afternoon was all about not doing anything stupid,” said Meeke.
“I knew that coming off the gravel yesterday we had to catch them early because it’s so close and hard to make a difference on asphalt.”
Ogier, Neuville, Ott Tanak and Dani Sordo traded places on every stage in their battle for second, which saw the foursome covered by a single second at one point.
Handling issued blighted Ogier’s Ford Fiesta in the morning. Constant tinkering with the set-up paid dividends and a strong afternoon contained three stage wins and gave him a 1.5sec advantage over team-mate Tanak.
The Estonian also overcame handling troubles and had to replace his damaged gearbox with a gravel-specification version and swiped a concrete block on the inside of a tight bend in the penultimate stage but escaped serious damage.
Neuville’s Hyundai i20 understeered badly in the morning but worse followed when its hydraulic system failed and he stopped to make repairs on a liaison section.
The engine refused to fire up and in his haste to reach the next test on time, Neuville spun and damaged the rear. He was three minutes late, incurring a 30 second penalty and plunging to eighth.
Team-mates Sordo and overnight leader Andreas Mikkelsen hit the same block as Tanak, tearing a wheel from Mikkelsen’s Hyundai.
The Norwegian, who had led overnight, was unable to match his gravel pace on asphalt and had slipped to sixth while Sordo retired with broken steering after this mistake.
Juho Hanninen won two stages in a Toyota Yaris to climb from eighth to fourth.
He was pursued by Neuville, who recovered to fifth but looks set to yield more points to Ogier in their championship duel.
Esapekka Lappi holds sixth in another Yaris ahead of Mads Ostberg, who survived a brush with the concrete.
Stephane Lefebvre, a dispirited Elfyn Evans and Eric Camilli completed the leaderboard.
Six stages covering 74.26km are set down for Sunday’s finale, which is divided into two identical loops of three. The final Santa Marina test forms the live TV Power Stage with bonus points for the fastest five crews.
VIDEO: Morning Stages
POSITIONS: Rally Catalunya – Rally de España : Day 2
|1||Kris Meeke||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||2:16:21.1|
|2||Sebastien Ogier||M-Sport World Rally Team||+0:13.0|
|3||Ott Tanak||M-Sport World Rally Team||+0:14.5|
|4||Juho Hanninen||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC||+0:34.0|
|5||Thierry Neuville||Hyundai Motorsport||+0:53.2|
|6||Mads Ostberg||M-Sport World Rally Team||+1:19.8|
|7||Esapekka Lappi||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC||+1:22.1|
|8||Stephane Lefebvre||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||+2:00.7|
|9||Elfyn Evans||M-Sport World Rally Team||+3:05.1|
|10||Eric Camilli||M-Sport World Rally Team||+5:40.8|