Sebastien Loeb will take a comfortable 33-second lead into day two in Italy, after Mikko Hirvonen picked up a puncture and left the World Champion alone up front.
The duo had been less than two seconds apart going into SS7, where Hirvonen sustained the tire damage. He waited until after the finish to change the wheel, and managed to keep the time loss down to 50sec. That briefly gave Citroen a 1-2-3, with Sebastien Ogier and Petter Solberg elevated to second and third. But Ogier decided to slow and drop time on the final stage of the day, reckoning that as he does not feel comfortable on this rally, he would be better off ensuring he battled for second.
Solberg therefore holds second, 33sec behind Loeb, and 19.9sec ahead of Hirvonen, who has Ogier right on his tail.
Despite his delay this afternoon, Hirvonen is still confident that he can fight for victory – especially when Loeb still first on the road tomorrow.
"As long as my wheels are pointing downward, it's going to be fine, we'll go flat-out. It's still possible to win," said Hirvonen.
Mads Ostberg lost a little time with brake issues this afternoon and was unhappy with his pace when the car was working well. But he was very pleased to complete the leg still within striking distance of third place.
Mini holds a top six place at the end of its first day back in the World Rally Championship, with Dani Sordo half a minute behind Ostberg and comfortably clear of the rest of the pack.
Evgeny Novikov's strong day came to an end on SS7, when he crashed his Stobart Ford out of fifth.
Leading positions after SS8:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 1h27m47.0s
2. Petter Solberg Solberg Citroen + 33.2s
3. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 53.1s
4. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 55.5s
5. Mads Ostberg Stobart Ford + 1m04.7s
6. Dani Sordo Mini + 1m33.2s
7. Ott Tanak MM Ford + 2m36.0s
8. Matthew Wilson Stobart Ford + 2m54.5s
9. Martin Prokop Czech Ford + 3m01.7s
10. Juho Hanninen Red Bull Skoda + 3m19.8s