Hirvonen leads way in Italy
Mikko Hirvonen holds a comfortable lead of almost 70 seconds after the second day of the Rally of Italy.
The second day of the Rally of Italy proved to be a graveyard for a number of leading contenders to leave Hirvonen in charge of his own destiny.
Hirvonen, without a victory in the World Rally Championship for just over 13 months since triumphing in Australia last September, holds a comfortable lead of almost 70 seconds to Russian Evgeny Novikov.
The six stages on the island of Sardinia accounted for nine-times champion Sebastien Loeb, fellow Frenchman Thierry Neuville and factory Ford duo Petter Solberg and Jari-Matti Latvala.
With the rally now Hirvonen's to lose, the works Citroen DS3 driver said: "They are dropping like flies.
"I must make sure I don't do any mistakes because there is still a long way to go. I have to stay focused."
Loeb went into day two with a slender 1.1secs lead over Hirvonen, but on the opening stage suffered a steering issue after striking a rock, forcing him into retirement for only the second time this year.
"I was pushing really, really hard, but it was a little mistake in the (pace) notes in a corner," said Loeb.
"I entered a bit too fast and hit the stone on the exit. It threw the car into a spin and finally we spun on the road.
"I turned around and continued, but the steering was very hard so I knew something was broken in the steering.
"I continued for a few corners, but the steering was blocked completely and I had to stop."
Starting stage four Latvala had climbed to fourth after coming into the day sixth, only to hit a banking at high speed in his Fiesta RS, bursting the radiator which ultimately proved fatal as he initially attempted to carry on.
Then on stage seven it was Solberg's turn to exit the casualty-strewn race as an accident saw him destroy the front-left of his car at a time when he was pushing Hirvonen when running second.
Citroen Junior driver Neuville, lying fourth after day one, like Loeb retired on the first stage of the day after rolling his car.
Although Neuville managed to get it upright again, he sustained burns to his hands in doing so, with the pain proving too much for him to continue today, but he will plough on over the weekend.
With Loeb out early, Hirvonen went on to win the first two stages of the day - the third and fourth overall - before Sebastien Ogier then made WRC history.
In taking stage five, Ogier became the first to triumph in a Super 2000-class car - specifically a Skoda Fabia - which have less power than their World Rally counterparts as tyre wear began to prove crucial.
Novikov then stepped up to the plate to claim stages six and seven in his M-Sport Fiesta RS to close the gap to a minute on Hirvonen, only for the latter to ram home his advantage by winning stage eight.
Ott Tanak lies third in his M-Sport Fiesta WRC, but 2:18 adrift, followed by Ogier who is 3:35 down, with Chris Atkinson sixth in his works Mini, a further 19 seconds down.