Hirvonen's Fiesta Leads Rally of Italy

Although perhaps not representative of the eventual outcome of the Rally of Italy, M-Sport WRC Fiesta driver Mikko Hirvonen currently leads after the very short Cagliari superspecial that opened the event on Thursday evening.The asphalt stage, lined with barriers and less than a mile long has little in common with the rough gravel of the main event, which commences on Friday morning on the island of Sardinia.

Hirvonen's time of 1m19.1s was two tenths of a second ahead of championship leader Sebastien Ogier's Volkswagen Polo and Thierry Neuville's Hyundai, who are tied for second. Juho Hanninen made it two Hyundais in the top four, while Ogier's team-mate and current title rival Jari-Matti Latvala edged out Elfyn Evans, Kris Meeke and Andreas Mikkelsen for fifth.

Sardinia has played host to the Rally of Italy since 2004 and the event is charecterised by fast but narrow roads lined with bushes, trees or rocks close to their edge, leaving drivers little margin for error. The island's roads are hard-based but covered by a sandy surface, which is swept away during the first pass of cars to leave rougher and rutted conditions for the second run. The thin layer of slippery gravel on the surface disadvantages early starters on the opening leg and to add to the challenge faced by the crews, temperatures approach 30C, making it uncomfortable in the cars and providing engines and transmissions with higher than normal levels of stress.

Leading positions after SS1:

Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Mikko Hirvonen M-Sport Ford 1m19.1s
2. Thierry Neuville Hyundai +0.2s
3. Sebastien Ogier VW +0.2s
4. Juho Hanninen Hyundai +1.2s
5. Jari-Matti Latvala VW +1.7s
6. Kris Meeke Citroen +1.7s
7. Elfyn Evans M-Sport Ford +1.8s
8. Andreas Mikkelsen VW +1.8s
9. Henning Solberg M-Sport Ford +2.1s
10. Mads Ostberg Citroen +2.6s

6th June, 2014