Jan Kopecky led Skoda Motorsport team-mate Pontus Tidemand in WRC 2 at ADAC Rallye Deutschland on Friday night.
After a tough opening leg on vineyard roads and country lanes lashed by rain, the Czech driver headed the championship leader by 5.8sec.
Kopecký, who remarkably led overall after Thursday night’s curtain-raising speed test in Saarbrücken, was never headed during the seven speed tests on the banks of the Mosel river and in Saarland.
He had his work cut out to hold off Tidemand, who would clinch the title if the positions remain unchanged at Sunday afternoon’s finish.
Kopecký’s advantage hovered around six seconds until afternoon storms made conditions treacherous and his lead burgeoned to 21.5sec. Tidemand battled back to win the final two stages, slicing 9.0sec off his deficit in the final test.
“I had one slick tyre at the rear and basically no traction because the whole stage was mud. I had to take it very carefully, it would have been stupid to spin then,” said Kopecký, who survived an earlier spin and a puncture.
Eric Camilli was slowed by a broken clutch in his Ford Fiesta. With a replacement fitted during mid-leg service, the Frenchman climbed to third, 13.8sec behind Tidemand.
Teemu Suninen, who must win to keep his title hopes alive, was fourth in another Fiesta. The Finn was less than 30sec off the lead and comfortably clear of local hero Marijan Griebel and Pierre-Louis Loubet.
Gus Greensmith’s hopes suffered an early blow with power steering problems in his Fiesta, but the Briton recovered to seventh.
Yoann Bonato shrugged off early engine problems in his Citroën DS 3 R5 to claim a stage win. Jon Armstrong was out of luck, the Irishman retiring his Fiesta after hitting a wall, while Yohan Rossel lost many minutes after also crashing.