Rally Italia Sardegna: Friday midday wrap

Number two drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Petter Solberg have come to the fore in the battle for victory on Rally Italia Sardegna following a dramatic morning when their respective team leaders both crashed out.

Loeb, in a Citroen DS3 WRC, broke his steering striking a rock on Friday’s first test, while Latvala failed to get through stage four when he crashed into a bank in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. As a result Hirvonen leads for Citroen with Solberg 25.8s adrift for Ford heading to Friday afternoon’s first stage, Castelsardo.

“I had a good time on the last stage and have a good lead now but for sure Petter will continue to push because he never gives up and I have to be ready for his attack,” said Hirvonen, runner-up in Sardinia on five occasions and yet to win in the WRC in 2012. “I can take less risk this afternoon but anything can happen.”

Solberg had been closer to Hirvonen starting stage five but struggled for grip on the 14.88-kilometre test. “We all expected tyre wear to be on the limit because the roads here are abrasive,” said Solberg who, like his rivals, was using soft compound Michelin tyres for the morning’s three stages. “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,” added Solberg.

Mads Ostberg is third for the Adapta World Rally Team with Evgeny Novikov fourth, Ott Tanak fifth and Chris Atkinson up to sixth for WRC Team MINI Portugal. Sebastien Ogier is seventh after he sensationally went fastest of all on stage five in his Super 2000-specification Volkswagen Motorsport Skoda Fabia. Team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen is eighth with Martin Prokop - who lost time when he spun and got stuck between two rocks on stage four - and Karl Kruuda rounding out the top 10.

Thierry Neuville started the day in fourth overall but rolled his Qatar World Rally Team Citroen onto its side on stage three. He suffered burns to his hands as he fought to get the car back onto its wheels. In considerable pain, Neuville withdrew before stage four. Meanwhile, leading Italian Luca Pedersoli lost time going off the road on stage three. He is 11th overall in a Citroen DS3.

Nicolas Fuchs leads the Production Car World Rally Championship section by 39.1s from Marcos Ligato, who is being plagued by a brake caliper issue. Team-mates and title rivals Michal Kosciuszko and Benito Guerra restarted under Rally 2 rules this morning after they both retired hitting the same log on Thursday’s second test. They are eighth and ninth respectively.