M-Sport's Mikko Hirvonen has had to retire from Rally Italia Sardegna after his Ford Fiesta RS WRC caught fire on the road section between SS3 and SS4.

Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen both escaped unharmed, but the car was completely burnt out. For obvious reasons he will not be able to re-start now on Saturday under the Rally 2 regulations.

"Our car caught fire but the reason why it happened, I have no idea," the Finn told WRC Live Radio. "After the stage I stopped and we checked the tyres and everything was cool and peaceful. I tried using the fire extinguisher but that did nothing and there was no way we could save the car. We got out of the car early. The flames were close to Jarmo but we are fine."

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Hirvonen, who was quickest in the short opening super special on Thursday night, had been running sixth overall after SS3. He was fifth fastest in SS2 this morning, but could only post the 11th best time in SS3.

"It is amazing... How things can go wrong..." he later tweeted. "Now, I need everybody to make a dance or something, to turn my amazingly bad luck around."

Meanwhile, following the fire, the start of SS4 has been delayed as crews have had to be re-routed.

Currently Juho Hanninen leads for Hyundai, ahead of team-mate, Thierry Neuville and Ford privateer Martin Prokp. Andreas Mikkelsen and Elfyn Evans complete the top five, all having made use of a better position on the road. Sebastien Ogier - running first in the order, as he is championship leader - lies down in tenth post-SS3, effectively ninth following Hirvonen's demise. Jari-Matti Latvala is one spot ahead of his team-mate in the overall order, also suffering as he too is playing the 'road sweeper' role. Latvala also reported brake problems in SS2.