If the long list of retirements is anything to go by, day two of Rally Italia proved to be very tricky. Whilst Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena’s rally ended prematurely, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen produced a flawless performance to keep out of trouble on the Sardinian course.
The Citroën Total World Rally Team’s Finnish crew has now established a clear lead at the front, over a minute ahead of the rest of the field.
Rain had fallen throughout most of the night, soaking the Mediterranean island’s gravel roads. The Citroën DS3 WRCs therefore fitted soft Michelin Latitude Cross tyres for the morning’s three stages.
Within a few kilometres of the start of Monte Lerno (ES3), an incredible series of incidents began when Sébastien Loeb’s DS3 WRC was reported to have stopped. “I slightly overestimated my pace notes and we ended up clipping 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 properly 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 as hard as I was this morning. 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.”
Meanwhile, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen went on to win the stage, before repeating the feat on Castelsardo (SS4). On Tergu – Osilo (SS5), the Finn – like his main rivals – had to contend with wear on his tyres. In the end, Mikko made it to the remove service park in Sassari with a healthy 25-second lead. “The way things went this morning was quite surprising, but everything went well for us,” he commented. “The tyres fell off pretty badly and the car was sliding around a lot, but we didn’t make any mistakes. We are going to switch to hard tyres for the afternoon.”
Unlike his rivals, Mikko took two spare tyres with him for the second loop. This strategy meant he had fresh rubber for the 30-kilometre Monte Lerno stage (SS8), helping him to end the day with another stage win. Over a minute ahead of Evgeny Novikov, the no.2 DS3 WRC driver was all smiles on his return to Olbia: “Obviously, I’m very pleased to be leading the rally by such a big margin. I wasn’t expecting the second leg to turn out like this. I thought I’d be fighting with Seb, Petter and Jari-Matti, but they have all had problems, and so that has made things a little easier, although I don’t really like this kind of situation where you have to control from the front. There are still two days left to go, so I need to remain very focussed.”
“The way the rally has turned out so far just goes to show how difficult the stages are in Sardinia,” analysed Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “Everyone went off today at a frenetic pace, starting with our two drivers who were going for the win. Seb made a minor mistake which proved very costly, whilst Mikko has produced the perfect race so far. He is not the leader by default, because he was already right up there when his rivals ran into trouble. So that’s very positive in terms of next season, when Mikko will need to be permanently in contention to win.”