Hirvonen holds lead in Sardinia
CRASH FLASH: 2012 World Rally champion Sebastien and his Citroen in action in 2012 Sardinia. Soon afterwards he crashed and retired from the event, as did two other top drivers. Image: AFP
Author: MARK MEADOWS
OLBIA, Italy - Finland's Mikko Hirvonen, driving a Citroen, maintained his lead in the Rally of Italy in Sardinia on Saturday, finishing the day almost 90sec ahead of Russia's Evgeny Novikov in a Ford Fiesta.
Estonia's Ott Tanak, in another Ford, was third, well over two minutes off the pace after 14 of the 16 special stages at the gravel event on the island of Sardinia.
'IT'S NOT OVER YET'
Hirvonen said on Saturday evening: "It's been a long day and we've had to be careful with all the rocks on the road but we've had time to go around them and had no problems. The car has been perfect, in fact it's been a good day at the office.
“Sure, it's not over yet, but we're looking really good and we don't have to push on Sunday."
Norway's Mads Ostberg won four of the day's six specials to move up to fourth in his Fiesta. He said: "I'm very happy with the day, everything is working well, we've been able to push without doing anything stupid.”
Sebastien Loeb, who claimed his ninth consecutive World drivers title on home ground in France a fortnight earlier, crashed out of the race on Friday's third special stage.
He blamed an incorrect pace note for being too fast through the corner where his hopes of a ninth victory in this year's championship went up in a cloud of dust.
Classification from the Rally of Italy on Saturday
1 Mikko Hirvonen (Finland) Citroen 3hr10min51.7
2 Evgeny Novikov (Russia) Ford +1min28.2
3 Ott Taenak (Estonia) Ford +2min20.6
4 Mads Ostberg (Norway) Ford +3min48.3
5 Sebastien Ogier (France) Skoda +4min30.5
6 Chris Atkinson (Australia) Mini +4min34.4
7 Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) Skoda +6min06.2
8 Martin Prokop (Czech Republic) Ford +9min18.9
9 Petter Solberg (Norway) Ford +10min15.0
10 Karl Kruuda (Estonia) Ford +10min56.6
CRASH RASH EXITS STAR TRIO
World rally champion Sebastian Loeb crashed out of the Rally of Italy on Friday in his first event since winning a record ninth successive title.
His Citroen team mate, Mikko Hirvonen, was in front at the end of the first full day of rallying in Sardinia after Loeb went off the road and hit some rocks while leading. The damage to his car's steering meant the Frenchman was unable to continue and will not restart on Saturday.
Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala damaged his car's radiator on stage four when he hit a rock and then a gatepost – and out he went too. Norwegian team mate Petter Solberg also went out in the afternoon with a damaged front left suspension.
Finn Hirvonen led Russian Evgeny Novikov, in a private Ford, by 1min09. Estonian Ott Taanak was third, also for Ford.
Classification after Day 1 of the 2012 Rally of Italy
1 Mikko Hirvonen (Finland) Citroen 1min56min25.5
2 Evgeny Novikov (Russia) Ford +1min09.6
3 Ott Taenak (Estonia) Ford +2min18.3
4 Sebastien Ogier (France) Skoda +3min35.7
5 Chris Atkinson (Australia) Mini +3min54.9
6 Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) Skoda +4min40.3
7 Mads Ostberg (Norway) Ford +4min46.0
8 Martin Prokop (Czech Republic) Ford +7min13.0
9 Karl Kruuda (Estonia) Ford +8min26.2
10 Petter Solberg (Norway) Ford +10min15.7