Ford team leader Mikko Hirvonen has admitted the timing blunder which leaves him ahead of Sebastien Loeb at the end of day one of the Rally d'Italia-Sardegna is one of the biggest mistakes of his career.
Running further down the order is a big advantage on Sardinia's gravel roads and both Ford and Citroen took a tactical approach to the sixth and final stage of today's opening leg.
Ford's aim was to ensure that Hirvonen started tomorrow behind Loeb so that he had better road conditions than his title rival, who has won every rally so far this year.
Going into the stage behind Loeb, Ford man Hirvonen held all the aces and the team duly sent a text message to the Finn's Ford to tell him the target time required for him to ensure he started behind Loeb tomorrow. Unfortunately for Hirvonen, he did not slow down enough, missing the target time by two seconds.
"This is the second-biggest f**k up of my career," he said (the first being Rally Finland in 2004, when he crashed out of the superspecial). "That's how bad this is. I just couldn't believe how much he'd slowed down in the final section. Everything was right from the team, this was all down to me."
While Hirvonen admitted his chances of victory on the event had not been completely ruined by the error, he said running ahead of Loeb on Saturday would make it much harder to beat his title rival.
"It is going to be hard work," he said, "but the one thing which is sure is that it's game on for me now. I have to drive as fast as I possibly can for the next two days to try and win this rally and to try and stop Loeb from winning everything."