Finn Hirvonen began Friday’s opening Monte Lerno test trailing Citroen team-mate Sebastien Loeb by 1.1s but was leading at the finish when Loeb failed to make it through the 29.68-kilometre run after breaking his DS3 WRC’s steering striking a rock on a corner he admitted he had taken too quickly.
Petter Solberg, in a factory Ford Fiesta RS WRC, inherited second and was trying to narrow Hirvonen’s advantage when he crashed on stage seven, handing the runner-up spot to Evgeny Novikov, who set two fastest stage times in his M-Sport Fiesta. The Russian is 1m09.6s adrift of Hirvonen starting Saturday’s stages.
“I’ve managed to come through with no problems or mistakes,” said Hirvonen who has yet to win a WRC round in 2012. “It’s difficult to keep the rhythm but everything is fine. I need to be careful because there is a long way to go and lots of rocks to hit.”
Novikov, who was fastest on stages six and seven, said: “It’s been a very good day, it was a bit slippery in the morning but in the afternoon it was fine. Now I have to stay concentrated to keep this position.”
Ott Tanak is third but suggested he could have been closer to the pace had is decision to run on hard compound tyres on Thursday not slowed him down and resulted in him running in a less favourable third on the road today. The Estonian is 1m08.7s behind M-Sport team-mate Novikov.
Sebastien Ogier is a shock fourth overall in his Volkswagen Motorsport-prepared Skoda Fabia Super 2000 following his fastest time on stage five, which he put down to his car’s soft compound tyres being less worn than those of the faster World Rally Cars.
Chris Atkinson is fifth for WRC Team MINI Portugal but eager to improve the handling of his John Cooper Works WRC. Andreas Mikkelsen is sixth in the second Volkswagen-run Fabia but it’s been a day of frustration for his fellow Norwegian Mads Ostberg. The Adapta Fiesta driver should have been in contention for a podium finish but a broken rear differential dropped him into front-wheel drive and down into seventh place.
Martin Prokop is eighth after encountering myriad problems during the day, including a front-left puncture on the final stage. Karl Kruuda is a strong ninth with Solberg classified in 10th. Luca Pedersoli overcame a handful of off-road moments to complete day two in 11th. WRC Team MINI Portugal’s Paulo Nobre is 14th but will incur time penalties after he failed to return to final service due to an engine overheating issue. Jari-Matti Latvala was fourth after three stages in his works Fiesta but crashed out on the very next run.
Saturday’s itinerary consists of six stages with 115.92 timed kilometres in store. The first stage, Coiluna-Loelle, goes live at 09:28hrs local time.