Kris Meeke started day two of the Monte Carlo Rally with a lead of 6.9 seconds after the Dungannon driver swept into the lead on Thursday night on the second night stage.
The opening four stages saw the Citroen driver maintain his lead but the ever present threat of reigning World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier saw the Frenchman take his Volkswagen Polo out front on stage five.
Meeke was 8.2 seconds slower than Ogier, but revealed there was no problem, explaining he had chosen his pace for the stage and he was happy to avoid taking chances.
Meeke set the third fastest time on stage five with Ogier heading the time sheets from VW teammate Latvala.
Stage six and Ogier was 3.5 seconds faster than Meeke, with the Ulsterman reporting that the ice was more polished and revealing he had been cautious on a part of the stage where Robert Kubica went off.
Meeke fought back on the seventh stage of the day to head Latvala and beat Ogier by 5.8 seconds; however on the final stage of the day the tables were turned as Ogier posted the fastest time ahead of Latvala, finishing 10.3 seconds ahead of Meeke.
“A great battle today with Kris, he is driving very well, however I was happy with my performance today, perhaps a few small mistakes,” said Ogier, who starts Saturday with a lead of 9.5 seconds from Meeke with Latvala some 68 seconds adrift of his team leader and with a mountain to climb.
The rally is clearly developing into a battle between Ogier and Meeke with two days of intense competition left.
Should Meeke maintain his fight with Ogier and win he will join Paddy Hopkirk who triumphed in 1964 as the only driver from these islands to take the chequered flag in Monte Carlo since that famous victory by the Ulsterman.