Citroen's Mikko Hirvonen has taken the lead on Rally Italia Sardegna this morning with both Sebastien Loeb and Jari-Matti Latvala going out.

Hirvonen began day two second overall and just 1.1 seconds behind his team-mate. However, Loeb was soon taken out of the equation when he hit some rocks in the outside of a corner early in SS3 and damaged the steering on his Citroen DS3 WRC. Mikko promptly inherited the lead and proceeded to set the pace in Monte Lerno - 2.8 seconds up on Petter Solberg. In the process he extended his cushion over the Norwegian from 12.8 seconds overnight to 15.6 post-SS3.

Hirvonen was then fastest again in SS4 and while he was only fifth in the next test, SS5, with Solberg even slower, he gained another 10 seconds and now heads to Sassari for the 15-minute mid-day service with a 25.8 second advantage.

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"What with the retirements, punctures and some surprising times at the end of the loop, this morning certainly proved very eventful. But for us, everything went well," Hirvonen said. "The stages were slippery, but that was related to the soft tyres, which deteriorated quickly.

"This afternoon, we'll switch to hard tyres. I don't want to change anything. I want to keep going at the same pace. Although the situation is very much in our favour, it won't be an easy rally to manage."

Behind, Solberg has been unable to match Hirvonen, and while he was close in SS3 and SS4 - and second quickest - he suffered excessive tyre wear in SS5 and subsequently was only ninth fastest. At least he made it through though, unlike his Ford team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, who went off the road in SS4 and hit a bank. The impact damaged the cars radiator and the VW-bound Finn was forced to retire. He had been running fourth overall.

"We all expected tyre wear to be on the limit because the roads here are abrasive," Solberg reflected. "However, the wear in the second stage was greater than we thought. I knew the final test would be difficult, so I was cautious over the initial downhill section to preserve the rubber as much as possible. But the next uphill section was very hard because I didn't have enough grip.

"We will drive the same stages again this afternoon, but the wear won't be as great with hard compound tyres. It was a tough loop but I'm happy with my speed. I'll maintain the same kind of pace and keep an eye out for what my rivals are doing," he added.

Mads Ostberg meanwhile now lies third in his Adapta WRT team entry, and, like Solberg, he too lost time in Tergu-Osilo, but only because of a puncture. Ostberg is now over a minute off P1 and almost 40 seconds off P2.

M-Sport Ford WRT pair Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tanak are next up in fourth and fifth respectively, the former just 7.3 seconds off third, and having been a very good second quickest in SS5. Tanak also enjoyed a pretty good morning, posting two fifth quickest times and one eighth, although a poor tyre choice on Thursday has left him 55 seconds off the sister car.

Further back, Chris Atkinson comes in sixth for the WRC MINI Team Portugal squad, while the VW Motorsport-run Skoda Fabia S2000's of Sebastien Ogier and Andreas Mikkelsen lie seventh and eighth. Ogier was quickest in SS5, the first time a S2000 car has ever set the pace overall in a WRC event.

Martin Prokop and Karl Kruuda round out the provisional points' scorers, the former suffering two spins in the first two tests. Luca Pedersoli is eleventh, losing time with an off in SS3, and Giuseppe Dettori lies twelfth.

In the PWRC, Nicolas Fuchs has extended his class lead over Marcos Ligato to 39.1 seconds. Valeriy Gorban remains third. Fuchs dropped to second in SS3 this morning after brake problems, but moved back ahead in SS5 when Ligato had his own issues and lost over a minute.

As for retirements, in addition to Loeb and Latvala, Thierry Neuville was also a notable scalp. He forced out after rolling his car in SS3. Although the Belgian managed to get to the end of that test, he sustained burns to his hands getting his Qatar WRT-branded DS3 WRC car back on all four-wheels and had to stop afterwards.

The action in Sardinia now continues this afternoon, with a repeat-run through this morning's three stages.

SS6, the 14.12 kilometre Castelsardo 2, is due to start at 14.46 hours local time [13.46 hours UK time].

Rally Italia Sardegna: Overall standings after Stage 5 (Top 10):

1. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 1hour 17mins 30.9secs M
2. Petter Solberg Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 25.8secs M
3. Mads Ostberg Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 05.6secs
4. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 12.9secs M
5. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 07.9secs M
6. Chris Atkinson WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +02mins 54.1secs
7. Sebastien Ogier VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +02mins 58.4secs
8. Andreas Mikkelsen VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +03mins 36.3secs
9. Martin Prokop Czech Ford National Team Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 43.9secs
10. Karl Kruuda Ford Fiesta S2000 +05mins 08.3secs


11. Luca Pedersoli Citroen DS3 WRC +09mins 02.1secs
12. Giuseppe Dettori Skoda Fabia S2000 +09mins 03.4secs
13. Nicolas Fuchs Subaru Impreza STi +10mins 04.5secs P
14. Paolo Nobre WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +10mins 37.9secs
16. Marcos Ligato Subaru Impreza STi 10mins 43.6secs P

PWRC standings after Stage 5 (Top 3):

1. Nicolas Fuchs Subaru Impreza STi 43mins 52.7secs P
2. Marcos Ligato Subaru Impreza STi +00mins 39.1secs P
3. Valeriy Gorban Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +01mins 10.7secs P

Notable retirements:

SS3. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC Went off M
SS3/SS4. Thierry Neuville Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC Rolled M
SS4. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC Went off M

all times unofficial