Citroen number one driver Sebastien Loeb has taken the lead on Rally Italia Sardegna following the opening two stages.
Loeb, who was running fifth on the road, was quickest on the first-run through the 28.14 kilometre Terranova test, 1.4 seconds up on his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen. Although the situation was reversed on the repeat-run through, Loeb was only 0.3 seconds off the sister works DS3 WRC car and will now go into day two on Friday with a slender 1.1 second cushion.
“I was quite surprised by Ford's choice to be first on the road because we all know the features of the stages here in Sardinia," Loeb said in the end of day service. "The perfect road position was fifth and I think our choice couldn't have been better. It's a tough event though, and we're still at the beginning of it."
“All okay, the starting position we chose was good and our tyre choice was right," Hirvonen chipped in. "Tomorrow and Saturday will be very tough.”
Behind the battling Citroens, Petter Solberg leads the Ford charge, having been third quickest in both SS1 and SS2. He lies 12.8 seconds off P2.
“I'm satisfied with tonight. There was a delay before the start of the second stage and we didn't have time to fit the extra lights to the car. It wasn't too bad, but it was quite dark in the forest sections and it was tricky to pick the correct braking points,” Solberg remarked.
Team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala meanwhile has had an awful start. The Finn had been quickest in qualifying and elected to run first in the order, in the belief that it would give him an advantage on Terranova 2, as he would avoid having to complete the stage in the dark. However he lost 15.3 seconds in SS1, as he had to sweep the line, and he then lost even more time in SS2 when he broke the front-left wheel on his Fiesta RS WRC about 10 kilometres in. Latvala is thus down in sixth overnight, 42.1 seconds adrift of the leader.
“It happened at a left corner, which had some bedrock on the inside,” Latvala recalled. “I was faster into the bend than the first pass and I turned in more. I knew there was a rock, but with the extra speed I couldn't avoid it. The impact broke the wheel and the air came out of the tyre. But to drive for so long like that and lose less than 30sec is amazing. It proves how strong Michelin's tyres are.
“The gamble of running first on the road didn't pay off because the conditions weren't as we expected. Once the loose gravel had been swept away, it was damp beneath, and that offered good grip to everyone,” he added.
Sandwiched between the two Ford World Rally Team entries, Thierry Neuville, competing under the Qatar WRT banner here, is fourth, with Mads Ostberg, in his Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC, fifth. Ostberg suffered a spin in SS1 after hitting a stone and bending a steering arm. He was still fourth fastest though, and was then sixth in SS2.