Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala led the Rally of Italy on Friday by 22 seconds from his Volkswagen Polo teammate and defending champion Sebastien Ogier.
Finland’s Latvala, winner in Argentina last month, posted the quickest times in five of the last six specials.
Mika Hirvonen’s interest in this sixth leg of the world championship on Sardinia came to a fiery end after the third stage.
As he made his way to the next special and after fitting a new set of tyres he watched helplessly as his Ford Fiesta erupted in flames.
“We changed the tyres and checked the pressures as normal between stages and everything was okay, Hirvonen told the sport’s official website, wrc.com.
“But then the car caught fire for no reason.
“When I was fighting the fire, the rear bumper was fine and sometimes that can break and catch on the exhaust which causes a fire. It’s strange.”