Hirvonen climbs to second in Argentina after dramatic second leg
Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen climbed the Rally Argentina leaderboard today to complete a dramatic second leg in second position. The Finns are 43.7sec from the lead in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car with one day remaining in this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila held off their challengers to retain the lead throughout the morning and early afternoon. However, a broken front left suspension link forced the Finns to retire in the penultimate speed test. They will restart tomorrow under SupeRally rules in eighth position after time penalties were added for not completing the final two special stages.
Drivers tackled two identical loops of four stages covering 159.66km. After an initial mixed surface test close to the rally base in Carlos Paz, 700km north-west of Buenos Aires, there were three smooth and fast gravel tests in the Calamuchita valley to the south.
Hirvonen, fourth overnight, retained his position this morning after posting three top three times. The 30-year-old added another trio of top three times this afternoon, which aided his ascent to second after Latvala retired and Petter Solberg dropped time on the final stage with power steering troubles.
My driving felt good but the times weren't as fast as I hoped.
"My driving felt good but the times weren't as fast as I hoped," he explained. "I don't understand because I pushed like hell. The car's set-up is virtually the same as it was for the last round in Sardinia, but the final couple of seconds just weren't there. I made small changes to the differentials and suspension and now I need to analyse the data with the engineers, but it's my driving not the car.
"I lowered the car's ride height for the mixed stage this morning but twice the car hit bedrock on the gravel and jumped onto two wheels. The final stage was so fast that I almost went off the road four or five times. Tomorrow will be different, because the stages are twistier and it will suit me," he added.
Latvala restarted with an 18.2sec advantage and the margin remained virtually unchanged at 17.8sec after the morning loop. He was first in the start order and endured the worst of the road conditions, sweeping slippery dirt from the surface to leave a cleaner line for his rivals behind. However, he was unconcerned, despite almost clipping a stone wall in a tightening left corner in the first stage.
"About 1.5km before the finish, my pace notes were too optimistic and the rear of the car broke away. I was lucky because I missed hitting the wall by a few centimetres," he explained.
"I lowered the car for the asphalt in the opening test but took a few heavy impacts on the sump guard on the previous gravel section. It wasn't bad being first into the stages, and I wasn't afraid, although the roads were dirty and cleaned for those behind. But I used the whole road and took lines the others probably didn't want to follow!" added Latvala.
His chances of victory ended on the afternoon's second test when the front left suspension link broke near the end of the stage. He lost 20sec and the lead struggling to the finish. Latvala and Anttila tried to make repairs in the following liaison section using straps to hold the link together, but it failed shortly after the start of the following test and they were sidelined.
"About 4km from the end I noticed that in braking the car was pulling massively to the right," said Latvala. "It was OK in corners and when accelerating but not under braking, so I had to ease off until the finish. We jacked up the car and found the suspension link was broken. We tried to repair it by taking a link from the rear of the car but it was too long so we used straps to try to hold it together.
"Unfortunately the repairs lasted only 4km into the next stage. I think that I must have hit a rock or the bedrock in a rut earlier in the stage which damaged the link, and it broke later in the test," he added.
Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson explained: "It was a huge disappointment for the team to lose Jari-Matti as he had led since yesterday morning. He tried to make repairs but it didn't work. It's good to have Mikko in second and I hope he can improve his pace to put pressure on those around him. One of the longest stages of the season lies in wait and I'm sure that will bring drama."
News from other Ford teams
M-Sport Stobart Ford duo Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson lie fifth in a Fiesta RS WRC after an untroubled day. Team-mates Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin dropped from sixth to seventh after dropping about 60sec when their Fiesta RS WRC hit a bank and punctured the right rear tyre in this morning's penultimate stage. Argentines Federico Villagra / Jorge Perez Companc split the two in seventh for the Munchi's Ford team. Monster World Rally Team's Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino retired in the final stage this morning with a broken driveshaft.
The final day is the shortest, but contains one of the longest stages of the season. After leaving Carlos Paz at 06.06, drivers face the monster 48.21km Ascochinga - Agua de Oro test in the Punilla Valley. Three more short tests remain, including a repeat of Thursday's super special stage and the final Power Stage, which offers bonus points to the fastest three drivers. The finish is back in Carlos Paz at 13.00 after 59.03km of competition.