Mikko Hirvonen is upholding Citroen honor in Italy by storming away with the lead after teammate Sebastien Loeb's retirement.
Loeb started Friday leading Hirvonen by just one second, but then went off and damaged his Citroen on the first stage of the day. The world champion reckoned a misjudged pace note led to the crash. That left Hirvonen leading by 15sec over Ford's Petter Solberg. As tire wear became a major issue through the morning, Hirvonen was able to start edging clear, bringing his lead up to 25.8sec after SS5.
Hirvonen and Solberg are the only front-runners still in contention.
Already behind after his Thursday delays, Jari-Matti Latvala then crashed on stage four, damaging his Ford's radiator and having to retire. Thierry Neuville went off on the same stage as Loeb, ending his podium challenge. The Citroen Junior driver managed to get his DS3 upright again – injuring his hands in the process – but the engine had lost too much oil and he had to stop on the following road section.
Although Mads Ostberg is currently third in the Adapta Ford, he has been badly hampered by tyre wear and what he suspected was a further problem with the car. He is now only 7sec ahead of the flying Evgeny Novikov.
Novikov looked like he was on course for a stage win on Tergu-Osilo, until being deposed by a remarkable performance from Sebastien Ogier in Volkswagen's S2000 Skoda. Ogier holds seventh overall, behind Ott Tanak and Chris Atkinson, and just ahead of team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen.
Showing how much better the S2000 cars were handling tire wear, Karl Kruuda was third quickest on SS5.
Leading positions after SS5:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen 1h17m30.9s
2. Petter Solberg Ford + 25.8s
3. Mads Ostberg Adapta Ford + 1m05.6s
4. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford + 1m12.9s
5. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford + 2m07.9s
6. Chris Atkinson Italia Mini + 2m54.1s
7. Sebastien Ogier VW Skoda + 2m58.4s
8. Andreas Mikkelsen VW Skoda + 3m36.3s
9. Martin Prokop Czech Ford + 3m43.9s
10. Karl Kruuda ME3 Ford + 5m08.3s