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.
“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.