The nine-time WRC title winner was leading the gravel round by 1.1s when he went off the road in slippery conditions approximately five kilometres into Friday’s opening test, the famous 29.68-kilometre Monte Lerno run.
“We hit some rocks at the outside of a corner,” said Loeb. “I felt that the steering was damaged and tried to continue. But we had to stop.”
It’s not clear if Loeb will restart under Rally 2 rules on Saturday. Meanwhile, Loeb’s exit means Citroen’s number two Mikko Hirvonen is now in front and bidding for his first victory of 2012. Hirvonen leads Ford rival Petter Solberg by 15.6s heading to stage four, Castelsardo.