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.
"I was pushing really, really hard but it was a little mistake in the notes in a corner,'' said Loeb, who was pushing for a ninth race win of the year.
"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 1min 9sec 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 2min 18sec behind Hirvonen.
Three other casualties were Ford drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg, as well as Belgium's Thierry Neuville in a Citroen.
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 rolled his Citroen after starting the day in fourth position.
"I was not concentrating enough, didn't hear a pace note, and we went off,'' said Neuville, who had to quit after burning his hands while pushing the car back on it's wheels.