Mikko Hirvonen looks well placed to take his first win with Citroen in Sardinia following day two of Rally Italia Sardegna, which saw the demise of four of his key rivals – including his team-mate, Sebastien Loeb and both Ford WRT pilots, Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg.
Hirvonen began today's action 1.1 seconds off Loeb, but the Frenchman crashed out in the opening test, SS3
. He will not re-start on Saturday. Thierry Neuville, who was fourth overnight, also hit trouble in that stage and while he got to the end he had to retire afterwards having sustained burns to his hands. Following that Jari-Matti Latvala succumbed in SS4 when he hit a bank and damaged the radiator. All that shock up the overnight leaderboard, leaving Hirvonen, who was quickest in two of the three stages this morning, 25.8 seconds up on Petter Solberg as competitors headed to Sassari for the mid-day halt.
On the repeat loop this afternoon there was more drama, with Solberg adding his name to the day two retirement list after going off the road near the end of the penultimate test. Fellow Ford runner Mads Ostberg also had issues this afternoon and a broken rear differential left him limping through SS7 and SS8, conceding more than 3 minutes.
While his rivals were 'dropping like flies' though, Hirvonen had no such issues and he notched up his third stage win of day in the final test of the leg. He will now go into day three with a commanding 1 minute 9.6 second advantage.
“We have had no problems and have made no mistakes. It was difficult to keep the rhythm at times, but everything has been okay. The rally is still long though, and we'll do our best now to stay focused. We need to be careful tomorrow. We don't have to push so hard and so hopefully everything will go well,” Hirvonen remarked.
Behind, Evgeny Novikov lies second for the M-Sport Ford WRT, and the Russian had a great afternoon, setting the best time in both SS6 and SS7 as he hauled in and passed the struggling Ostberg: “It was a very good day, I'm very happy,” said Novikov. “It was slippery this morning but the second loop was fine. The aim now is to finish and keep the position, we have to be focused”.
Ott Tanak completes the provisional podium at this stage in the sister M-Sport Ford WRT entry, a minute or so off P2 and a similar amount up on Sebastien Ogier, who lies fourth: “I'm pleased today,” Tanak noted. “We had a tough start with the wrong tyre choice, but today was much better and the feeling with the car is great.”
Ogier meanwhile was on form in his VW Motorsport-run Skoda Fabia S2000 and after winning SS5 – the first time in WRC history a S2000 car has won a stage overall – he continued to push this afternoon, getting the better of Chris Atkinson in SS7, and ending the leg 19.2 seconds in front of the WRC MINI Team Portugal driver.
“We should be in front of Ogier but he's driving very well,” Atkinson said. “We made a mistake in SS7 [and spun] but we're here which is good”.