- Poland - rallying - Sebastien Loeb
AFP - Finland's Mikko Hirvonen took charge of Rally Poland on Friday, winning three of the day's six special stages and profiting from the misfortune that once again befell Sebastien Loeb.
Five-time world rally champion Loeb finished the second day of the eighth event of the season 20 minutes behind the leaders after ramming his Citroen C4 into a tree trunk at the beginning of SS4, forcing him to retire for the day.
On Friday evening Hirvonen, who won in Greece two weeks ago, led his Ford Focus team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala by 8.9 seconds with Spaniard Dani Sordo third in the Citroen C4, 37 seconds off the pace.
Hirvonen won specials two, three and six, with his compatriot Latvala triumphing in SS4, SS5 and SS7.
"The tree trunk was hidden a little bit in the sand, we didn't see it," said Loeb, who was also forced out of the Acropolis Rally of Greece after crashing in the event's seventh special.
"It ripped the suspension apart, and as this was at the start of a 30km stage we decided we were wasting time so we dropped out."
Loeb now faces a virtually impossible task to preserve his seven-point lead over Hirvonen in this year's championship, but he remained bullish about the outcome of the season.
"I just have to take that as it comes," the Frenchman said. "It's bad luck but I have won five championships so I am not going to cry about it."
Hirvonen and Latvala, meanwhile, will now target a second consecutive maximum points haul for Ford after their one-two in Greece.
"Winning could be good but there's still a long way to go - I still need to finish the rally," said Hirvonen.
"We saw today, it's so easy to make a small mistake here. It’s a new rally, very fast and very narrow and it’s easy to miss a rock or a tree stump in the recce.
"I still need to be careful tomorrow and make sure I can get to the finish."
Norway's Petter Solberg, the early pace-setter after winning Thursday's first special, finished the day in fourth place in his Citroen Xsara, 37.6 seconds behind Sordo, with older brother Henning Solberg fifth in a Ford Focus.