Sebastien Ogier crept closer to sealing his eighth World Rally Championship crown by reclaiming a narrow lead on Saturday from Toyota teammate and title rival Elfyn Evans at the season finale in Monza.
Frenchman Ogier, however, who took a 17-point lead into the final rally of the season, is just half a second clear of Welshman Evans, the only driver that can snatch the title away from him.
“I didn’t expect to regain the lead tonight,” said Ogier at the end of a gripping day’s rallying.
“I’m taking a bit less risk and losing a bit of time.
“We hope there will be emotion, and some very strong ones tomorrow. A win would be the cherry on the cake, but the main target we are chasing is not the rally win.”
Ogier lost the lead on Friday to Evans and it changed hands three times between them in four stages on Saturday morning. Ogier regained it from the Welshman by winning stages 10 and 11, the last of four morning specials in the mountains.
“Evans has nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting pressure on me,” said Ogier.
“That’s why I’ve been saying from the start that I don’t want to fall into the trap of this battle.”
Evans roared back by winning the 12th stage on the iconic Monza race circuit and still has a strong chance of winning the rally on Sunday, although he will need something to go very wrong for his teammate Ogier if he is to win the world title.
“We didn’t have an ideal morning but the afternoon was a bit better,” tweeted Evans.
“We struggled in a couple of places on the last stage in the dark but it’s all still to play for tomorrow and we will be going for it.”
Dani Sordo, who is third, 27.4secs behind Ogier, cleaned up the day’s final special in his Hyundai.
The Spaniard had earlier moved ahead of Thierry Neuville after the Belgian sustained damage to his car and dropped to fourth.
Ogier brought a healthy 17-point lead to Monza. With a maximum of 30 points still in play, he must finish ahead of Evans or score at least 13 points to secure the title.