Ford's Markko Martin won all four stages on the second leg of the Sanremo rally on Saturday - but still trailed leader Sebastien Loeb of Citroen.
Martin dominated Saturday's stages
The Frenchman takes a 43.2 second lead over the Estonian into Sunday's third and final leg.
Martin's day began poorly when he was handed a 30-second penalty after electrical trouble delayed the departure of his Ford and he arrived late at a checkpoint.
But he fought back to win the first stage and kept on top through the day.
Martin said he felt the penalty had all but robbed him of his chance of victory.
"It was disappointing to lose time in service," he said.
"We have no chance of attacking Sebastien now unless he makes a mistake.
"There's no point in taking risks so we'll try to maintain our position."
Loeb said he would be taking no chances either.
"Do you think it's impossible to catch me?" he asked. "I hope so, but there is still a lot to do. I've been trying to drive with caution."
Finn Marcus Gronholm in a Peugeot consolidated his third place and looked set for a podium finish.
Britain's Richard Burns, who has a seven-point lead over Norwegian Petter Solberg and Spaniard Carlos Sainz in this year's championship race, remained ninth.
Sainz will close the gap if he can keep hold of fourth place, while Solberg was forced to retire on Friday.