Marcus Gronholm was back in form again on the first leg of Rally Argentina, finishing the first full day of rallying with an 8.4-second lead over Carlos Sainz. Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen. Photo by Marlboro Peugeot Total. It...
Marcus Gronholm was back in form again on the first leg of Rally Argentina, finishing the first full day of rallying with an 8.4-second lead over Carlos Sainz.
"I'm generally happy with the way things have gone, although I haven't been able to relax for one moment," Gronholm recounted. "Things certainly aren't comfortable, and anything could still happen. I've been pushing reasonably hard without going crazy, and as this is fast enough to keep the lead my plan is to carry on like this."
Sainz only clocked the fastest time on one stage, but it was the 28.2 km Ascochinga 2, and there the 6.8-second margin was enough to claim the lead back from the Finn. He is within striking distance, but there is much driving left.
Sainz's Citroen teammate and current World Championship leader, Sebastien Loeb was well behind the first day, 33.6 seconds off the pace of Gronholm, though, largely due to having had to be the first car on each stage and thus "clean" the road for the following competitors.
"At the end of the first loop, I thought I had finished with the job of cleaning the road," Loeb explained. "But, to my surprise, the second time round was even more penalizing than the first. The sandy parts had been churned up and thousands of spectators had covered up the tracks. Instead of my times improving as they normally do on the second time through, my time in three out of the four stages was slower. In 'Valle Hermoso', I lost nearly a second per kilometre!"
Things were worse for Loeb's two closest World Championship rivals, though, as Petter Solberg and Markko Martin both retired from the rally.
"I've done many rallies in my life and tackled many different water splashes," mused the disappointed Norwegian. "However, this has happened three times now and together we're going to have to find the best way of attacking them."
Martin's exit, also on Villa Giardino - La Falda, was even more dramatic, as his Ford Focus went off the road near the midpoint of the stage at high speed, rolling several times. Martin and codriver Michael Park climbed out of the car unaided, but both were taken to hospital for precautionary tests and observation.
So it is an opportunity for Gronholm to make up some ground on his rivals -- ground that he has lost earlier this year through retirements and his disqualification after what looked like a victory in the Cyprus Rally.