Latvala eats into Neuville's Rally Italy lead
Jari-Matti Latvala slashed Thierry Neuville's Rally Italy lead to just 2.9 seconds with a charge through the event's longest stage on Saturday morning.
Neuville had slightly extended his advantage on the short Monti di Ala stage that opened the leg, but then confessed to being slightly too careful in the following Coiluna-Loelle's fast and narrow section.
That allowed Latvala's Volkswagen to get the gap down from 11.7s to 9.7s.
The balance between them ebbed and flowed on the 27-mile Monte Lerno stage that closed the loop, but a strong end allowed Latvala to all but demolish the Hyundai driver's cushion.
Although Neuville again conceded to slight over-caution after losing nearly 7s to Latvala, he felt he had done very little wrong and the VW had simply been faster.
While the two leaders took hard tyres all round for Monte Lerno, use of softs elsewhere played a part in making an already close battle for third extremely tight.
Stuck with the worst of the road conditions for a second day, World Rally champion Sebastien Ogier continued to lose time to the leaders as his VW team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen and M-Sport's Mads Ostberg edged closer to him.
Monte Lerno proved a particular challenge, though Ogier was able to hang on ahead of Mikkelsen by 3s even though his team-mate had looked set to leap in front at one point.
Instead Mikkelsen lost a place to flying stage winner Ostberg, who had chosen a mix of hards and softs that his rivals all agreed was the perfect call for a stage where hards didn't offer quite enough grip and softs soon faded.
Ostberg admitted he had planned to go hard all round before seeing Ogier on softs, and now goes into the afternoon just three tenths of a second behind the WRC points leader's third place.
Unhappy with a tail-happy car on the first stages and his choice of soft tyres on Monte Lerno, Dani Sordo fell away from the podium fight in sixth place.
The dusty conditions allowed those further down the running order to thrive. Seventh-placed Ott Tanak was fastest of all as the DMACKs worked well on SS12, while SS11 had featured a one-two for Kevin Abbring and Eric Camilli, which Camilli backed up with third on Monte Lerno.
It made little difference to their positions as transmission difficulties that left them in two-wheel-drive stance for much of Friday had already dumped Camilli and Abbring well outside the points, and Abbring was further delayed on Monte Lerno when he had to change a tyre.
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