Jan Kopecký continues to hold a slim 5.8 second lead over Škoda Motorsport team-mate Pontus Tidemand, with the latter on the cusp of securing the WRC2 championship title in two days time.
The roughly five second gap had remained steady throughout most of the day, only widening when a poor run through the afternoon re-run of Mittelmosel dropped Tidemand 15 seconds further behind his Czech team-mate.
The balance was quickly redressed after a small spin from Kopecký in the following stage, followed by a stage victory for Tidemand to end the day. He had won by only 0.2 seconds from third placed Eric Camilli, but recovered 9 seconds lost earlier in the day and brought his team-mate back within touching distance.
Camilli had initially been in the lead scrap, but found himself shuffled down to fifth place after a poor run through the first running of Grafschaft. He went on a charge through the Mittelmosel re-run, winning the stage and putting over 12 seconds on everyone in the class bar rally leader Kopecký.
M-Sport stablemate Teemu Suninen is the last car with a chance of victory, half a minute behind Kopecký in fourth position. The Finn is known for being harder on himself than anyone else, and was again disappointed to be unable to challenge the Škodas during the first full day.
The battle for fifth is extremely tight, with WRC2 debutant Marijan Griebel pipping Pierre-Louis Loubet for the position during the leg’s final superspecial stage. Loubet was left ruing a spin during the second running of Grafschaft, costing him ten seconds and leaving him frustrated at the stage end.
Gus Greensmith moved up to sixth by the day’s end, taking advantage of an unsettled Yoann Bonato, who plummeted from the podium positions early in the day down to seventh by the leg finish. The Frenchman was spooked by the slippery conditions that plagued the afternoon loop, losing time hand over fist through a lack of confidence.
Simone Tempestini dropped all the way to 14th position after the SS3, but slowly made up positions as fellow WRC2 competitors Yohan Rossel and Jon Armstrong retired, the latter losing his brakes and smashing into a wall.
Tempestini had snatched 9th place away from Quentin Gilbert at the very end of the day, making up 10.2 seconds on the Frenchman in the short 9.3km test to steal the position away.
The climb was short-lived however, as Tempestini was slapped with a five minute penalty for a second speeding infringement on the road section between the service park and the Mittelmosel stage just after lunch.
This dropped him all the day down to 15th place, while Rossel earned an identical punishment for the same infraction, though stays 16th given his already extensive Rally2 penalties.
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N.B. This article was updated at 20:53 to reflect time penalties awarded to Simone Tempestini and Yohan Rossel.