On a morning marked by the retirements of Sébastien Loeb and Thierry Neuville, Mikko Hirvonen moved into the lead of the Rally Italia Sardegna. The Citroën Total World Rally Team driver held a 25-second lead over his nearest rival at the halfway stage on day two.
After rain had fallen yesterday evening and overnight, the majority of competitors opted to fit soft Michelin Latitude Cross tyres. The morning’s programme was made up of three stages, featuring over 60km of timed sections.
Within a few kilometres of the start of Monte Lerno (SS3), Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena’s DS3 WRC was reported to have stopped by the side of the road. “I overestimated my pace notes for a bend and we clipped some rocks that were on the outside of the corner. I could tell straightaway that the steering was damaged. I tried to continue, but it ended up blocking completely so we had to park by the side of the road. During recce, we had a puncture on this section and I wasn’t concentrating fully on the pace notes, which is why I made this small mistake. I would probably have got away with it if I hadn’t been pushing so hard. I’m just a bit disappointed to retire, because I was enjoying my driving. As there is no longer anything at stake, we have decided not to rejoin tomorrow.”
Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul also hit trouble on SS3. “I made a mistake, I wasn’t sufficiently focussed and I misinterpreted Nicolas’ pace notes. We went off and the car ended up lying on its side,” recounted the Qatar World Rally Team driver. “We managed to get away again after about six minutes. My DS3 WRC was working okay, but it had lost a lot of oil when it was on its side and we felt it was better to retire. I also managed to burn my fingers when pushing the car, so I would have had a lot of difficulty in making it to the end of the day. We’ll wait and see whether we rejoin tomorrow under Rally2 regulations.”
Meanwhile, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen produced a flawless performance on the Sardinian roads. Two stage wins on SS3 and SS4 enabled the Finns to establish a healthy lead at the front. Managing their tyres as well as they could on Tergu-Osilo (SS5), they increased their advantage further, arriving at the midday service period with a 25s lead over Petter Solberg.
“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,” summed up Mikko. “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 race to manage.”
After a remote service period in Sassari, the crews will complete the same stages this afternoon. They are scheduled to start arriving back in Olbia at 7.30pm.