Berlin (AFP) - World Rally Championship title favourite Ott Tanak held onto his lead with four stage wins out of six at the Rally of Germany on Friday, though Belgian challenger Thierry Neuville remains hot on his tail ahead of the weekend's dreaded military stages.
Neuville is among those chasing Tanak in the overall championship standings, and made life difficult for the Estonian as the drivers had two runs each at three different stages in the winding vineyard roads near Trier.
Having taken the opening stage in the St. Wendeler Land sprint on Thursday, Toyota's Tanak briefly fell behind in the standings as Hyundai driver Neuville won the so-called Stein und Wein stage first thing on Friday.
Neuville kept the heat on when he took the Stein und Wein stage again in the afternoon, but Tanak was repeatedly the quickest over the other two, and finished with a 2.8 second lead over the Belgian.
"It's nice to be in this kind of fight," Tanak told the WRC website.
The Estonian is hoping to build on a 22-point championship lead with another win this weekend, as he bids to unseat perennial world champion Sebastien Ogier and become the first non-French world champion in 16 years.
Ogier, who has held the title since 2010, slipped a full 22.1 seconds behind Tanak in third after problems with his understeering on Friday.
"I have some ideas what the problem is. I don't have ideas about what we need to do," he told the WRC website.
The most daunting day of the race looms on Saturday, as drivers take on the Panzerplatte tank training tracks at the Baumholder military base.
1. Ott Tanak-Martin Jarveoja (EST/Toyota Yaris) 59:12.4,
2. Thierry Neuville-Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL/Hyundai i20) at 2.8
3. Sebastien Ogier-Julien Ingrassia at 22.1,
4. Kris Meeke-Sebastian Marshall (GBR/Toyota Yaris) at 25.6,
5. Jari-Matti Latvala-Mikka Anttila (FIN/Toyota Yaris) at 27.8,
6. Andreas Mikkelsen-Anders Jaeger (NOR/Hyundai i20) at 40.0
7. Esapekka Lappi-Janne Ferm (FIN/Citroen C3) at 52.9,
8. Gus Greensmith-Elliott Edmondson (GBR/Ford Fiesta) at 1:05.5,
9. Dani Sordo-Carlos Del Barrio (ESP/Hyundai i20) at 1:15.1,
10. Kalle Rovanpera-Jonne Halttunen (FIN/Skoda Fabia) at 2:58.5