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Hirvonen leads Rally of Italy as champ Loeb crashes out

SASSARI, Italy--Sebastien Loeb, who claimed his ninth successive world drivers title on home ground in France a fortnight ago, crashed out of the Rally of Italy in Sardinia during Friday's third special stage.

The Citroen driver blamed an incorrect pace note for being too fast through the corner where his hopes of a ninth victory in this year's championship went up in smoke.

“I was pushing really, really hard but it was a little mistake in the notes in a corner,” on the slick, narrow road after just five kilometers of the 30-km Monte Lerno stage, 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 after the steering was blocked completely and I had to stop there.”

After the first full day of racing, Loeb's Citroen teammate Mikko Hirvonen of Finland led the penultimate rally of the season by 1 minute and 9 seconds over Russia's Ford driver Evgeny Novikov.

Loeb was the overnight leader before crashing out while Estonia's Ott Tanak moved into third spot in another Ford but he remains 2 minutes and 18 seconds behind Hirvonen.

Ford drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg as well as Belgium's Thierry Neuville in a Citroen were three of the contenders for success on the roads around Sicily but are all now out of contention.

Solberg, was shouldering all of Ford's hopes after teammate Latvala crashed out on the fourth stage but the 2003 world champion damaged the front left corner of his car on stage seven.

Neuville earlier lost six minutes after a lack of concentration led to his rolling the Qatar World Rally Team Citroen DS3 WRC he was driving.

Having started the first full day of racing in fourth position overall, Neuville said: “I was not concentrating enough, didn't hear a pace note, and we went off.

“The car was on the side but we managed to continue although I have hurt my right hand because it was not easy (getting the car on its wheels) with just two persons.”

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