BASTIA, Corsica (AP) — Belgian driver Thierry Neuville won three of the day's four stages to take a commanding lead over world rally champion Sebastien Ogier at the Tour of Corsica on Saturday.
Neuville is 38.9 seconds clear with two stages left on Sunday. He profited from some good fortune as overnight race leader Kris Meeke pulled out after the day's second stage.
Meeke led Ogier by 10.3 seconds and Neuville by 25.8 overnight, but the Northern Irishman's race was thwarted by engine trouble. Meeke managed to reach the end of stage six, but smoke was pouring from his Citroen C3's engine and he was unable to continue.
That meant Neuville, who finished each of Friday's first four stages in third place, moved into the lead after winning the long fifth stage — 49 kilometers (30 miles) from La Porta to Valle di Rostino — and the much shorter sixth.
It was a frustrating day for Ogier, who left Volkswagen to drive the Ford Fiesta for M-Sport this season. Even though he won the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally, he is still getting accustomed to the car.
"There were some sections where I was not compatible with the car and couldn't push," the Frenchman said. "The car is touching the road too much for me."
After stage six, which featured several difficult turns before reaching Novella village high in the Coriscan mountains, Ogier sounded even more exasperated.
"It's obviously not fast enough and I would like to know why. I can't explain it," Ogier said after finishing that stage in seventh place. "We have to try to find something because this isn't the pace I want."
Stages seven and eight were a repeat of Saturday's two morning stages.
Ogier finally found form to win stage seven and slashed Neuville's lead from 8.2 seconds to 2.2, with Neuville losing valuable time after spinning in the first hairpin bend and placing third behind Finnish driver Jari-Matti Latvala.
But Ogier's joy turned to misery as he sustained hydraulic problems on stage eight, finishing it a dismal 11th while Neuville won to extend his advantage.
Ogier, who has won the past four world titles, is looking to become only the second driver to win five. Countryman Sebastien Loeb holds the record with nine, all won consecutively.
Ogier's title bid looks more complicated this season.
Should Neuville win in Corsica, he will be the fourth different driver to win in as many races this season, suggesting an unpredictable campaign.
Sunday's ninth and penultimate stage, 54 kilometers (33 miles) from Antisanti to Poggio di Nazza, could give Ogier an opportunity to claw some time back.