Sebastien Ogier of France extended his Rally Australia lead by winning all six stages Saturday and taking a 46-second advantage over second-place Mikko Hirvonen of Finland, a former three-time champion in Australia.
Ogier, who came into the event with a 75-point lead and could clinch the World Rally Championship with a victory here, has won 14 of 16 stages so far in his Volkswagen Motorsport.
“We’ve extended the lead and it looks really good, but there is another long day tomorrow,” said Ogier, adding that it was difficult to ignore the possibility of securing his first world title. “I have it a little bit in my mind.”
Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke was forced to retire when he rolled his Citroen 20 kilometers (12 miles) into the afternoon Nambucca stage. Meeke and co-driver Chris Patterson were not injured.
Earlier in the day, Ogier seemed to be wearing down his closest pursuer.
The first stage Saturday, and 11th overall, was the longest of the rally at 50 kilometers (30 miles). Citroen driver Hirvonen and Ogier were closely matched through much of the stage before Ogier pulled 5.3 seconds clear in the closing section.
“It almost felt like he was playing with us,” Hirvonen said on the WRC website. “Our split times showed we were one second up, then one second down, back and forth like that for most of the stage, and then he pulled three seconds in one split.
“We had a near-miss towards the end and then took it a bit more cautiously. All we can do now is try to keep the pressure on him and see what happens.”
Ogier, who followed Hirvonen through the early stages Saturday, said: “I was not playing with him, but I did try to copy his rhythm and not push too much. That was enough.”
On the second stage of the day, the short Valla route, Jari-Matti Latvala punctured his right rear tire and damaged the front of his Volkswagen. He lost more than 15 seconds and slipped back in the standings.
“We went wide and hit a bank,” said the Finnish driver. “We hit the front and rear of the car. It didn’t steer, it just went light and stopped turning.”
The 354-kilometer (218-mile) rally ends on Sunday with the final six of 22 stages.