Loeb and Hirvonen aim for one-two
With just a tenth of a second between them at the start of day two of Rally Argentina, the Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen crews continued to battle for the lead throughout the morning. After moving clear at the top of the overall standings, the DS3 WRCs then adopted a pace that would enable Citroën Total World Rally Team to look forward to another one-two finish.
The itinerary for the second leg was based on a loop of three stages, held on roads about a hundred kilometres south of Villa Carlos Paz. The morning saw an engrossing battle between team-mates Sébastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen. After setting the fastest time on the San Agustin/Santa Rosa test, the eight-time World Champion lost a few seconds to his Finnish team-mate on Amboy/Santa Monica.
The scrap became even more intense on the Intiyaco/Golpe de Agua test, another stage noted for its radical changes in pace and featuring “flat-out” sections several kilometres long! Sébastien Loeb was on course to win the stage, but he lost a few seconds after almost going off. Mikko ended up with the fastest time, by just three tenths of a second.
“I pushed very hard this morning, but Mikko hit back,” summed up Sébastien Loeb on his return to the service park. “We very nearly went off on SS9: a stone that I hadn’t noticed in reconnaissance lifted the car off the ground as we headed into a corner. There was a large rock on the outer part of the road which kept us from going off. We were lucky.”
“I really enjoyed this morning,” commented Mikko. “I was really looking forward to the Intiyaco/Golpe de Agua stage, which in my opinion is the best stage on Rally Argentina and perhaps the best in the World Championship. If only it was like that all the time! I felt very good in the DS3 WRC and was able to push with no holds barred.”
With its two drivers lying first and second, and their closest rival trailing by a minute and a half, the Citroën Total World Rally Team was already perfectly placed to secure a one-two finish. Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal, therefore opted to tell his drivers to hold their positions: “I spoke to both the crews and they agreed that it was the best solution. Sébastien Loeb almost went off this morning and we can’t afford to throw away a possible one-two, which would obviously be a great result for both World Championships. It’s a bit hard on Mikko after what happened at Rally Portugal, but I hope he’ll be able to stand on the top step of the podium again with us very soon.”
The Citroën DS3 WRCs continued in the afternoon at a less hectic pace. Sébastien Loeb increased his lead by a few seconds: “We had a good day. This afternoon, we took as few risks as possible, especially in the twisty sections. I drove the car my way, Mikko drove his car his way and we ended up with more or less the same times.”
“We ended the day at a good pace and where we want to be,” added Mikko Hirvonen. “In situations like these, you can’t ease off too much, otherwise you run the risk of having an undriveable car. The team is in the best possible position, especially as the third-placed driver is now nearly two minutes behind. We’ll have to keep it up tomorrow!”
NEUVILLE WANTS TO HOLD OFF SOLBERG
After rejoining the rally, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul first of all focussed on trying to get their bearings back by adopting a less hectic pace than yesterday. Now eighth overall, the Citroën Junior World Rally Team crew produced some fine performances today, such as 2nd fastest time on SS12 and the fastest time on the superspecial stage (SS13): “Petter Solberg is pushing to try and make up ground; my goal is to keep him behind us. We had to push hard to do that! At the same time, it is still possible to improve position. I think we can aim for 6th place overall.”
AL-ATTIYAH STOPPED IN HIS TRACKS
Starting in fifth position on the road for this leg, Nasser Al-Attiyah was forced to drop out of the race after SS9. The Qatari managed to get to the end of the stage despite a minor impact, but he was unable to go any further as one of his wheels had been ripped off. The Qatar World Rally Team will rejoin the rally tomorrow under Rally2 regulations.