Qualifying for this weekend's World Rally Championship was close with Jari-Matti-Latvala just 0.035sec faster than Sebastien Loeb.
Jari-Matti-Latvala has gone fastest on the Qualifying Stage for Rally Argentina, round five of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The Finn, who drives a Polo R for the Volkswagen Motorsport team, completed the 4.59-kilometre test from Villa Garcia to Cabalango in a time of 2m31.128s to earn the right to select his road position for day one’s stages first.
World Champion Sebastien Loeb was second fastest in a Citroen DS3, just 0.035sec slower, while Latvala’s team-mate Sebastien Ogier was third, 0.292sec adrift in another Polo R.
In contrast to the slippery, muddy conditions seen in qualifying in 2012, this morning’s session was held in warm and dry conditions. The stage featured a soft, sandy surface and an extremely high-speed character.
“For the first 2km of the stage I think it was in sixth gear all the time!” Latvala told wrc.com.
“There was just one place where I had to brake a little bit. That’s the case - you have to keep the pedal to the metal on that stage. Towards the end it was a bit more technical. If you want to do a good time there you need to be confident with the car.”
Latvala opted to run the soft-compound Michelin tyres – the French firm’s nominated option for the event. “Looking at the conditions, I think these will be the best choice for the rally,” he added.
The five fastest drivers were separated by less than one second. Citroen DS3 driver Dani Sordo was fourth quickest, with Mikko Hirvonen fifth in a similar car.
Ogier, the current championship leader, said: “My car felt okay and it’s no surprise that it’s so close between everybody because there are not so many corners on the stage.
“It’s really fast and there are not so many places to make the difference. So we just tried to avoid any mistakes. If you make any in qualifying you can lose a lot of places.”
Asked if he was surprised by Loeb’s pace after two rallies away, Ogier said: “No, I’m not surprised. I expected him to be there!”
Ahead of the selection, Latvala was still considering his options. “I think at the moment you would like to start far back but there is a chance of rain which is mixing the situation,” he said.
“There were a couple of times last year when I won qualifying and I ended up taking completely the wrong start position, so I wouldn’t want to do that.”
Latvala opts for back of the pack
Rally Argentina qualifying stage winner Jari-Matti Latvala has decided to start as far down the order as possible in tomorrow's opening leg.
With conditions currently dry and warm in the rally base of Carlos Paz, the Finn opted to start last of the 12 top priority drivers to take advantage of what he hopes will be the best road conditions.
The Volkswagen Polo R driver believes the early starters will sweep slippery loose gravel from the road surface to leave a cleaner and faster line from which he can benefit.
Not even the possibility of rain could deter Latvala from his chosen path.
“I think it’s better to start at the back,” he said. “The weather is dry and even though it may rain, I don’t think there will be much, so I think it will be alright.”
All the remaining drivers opted for the lowest position available except for Evgeny Novikov, who chose to start first in his Ford Fiesta RS.
“I only had two options,” said the Russian. “I could have opted for first or fifth on the road and, to me, first makes the most sense for two reasons. Firstly, all the guys in front would have had a completely different line to me and, secondly, there will not be any stones pulled onto the road by cars ahead.”
The start order is:
1. Evgeny Novikov
2. Gabriel Pozzo
3. Michal Kosciuszko
4. Martin Prokop
5. Andreas Mikkelsen
6. Thierry Neuville
7. Mads Ostberg
8. Mikko Hirvonen
9. Dani Sordo
10. Sebastien Ogier
11. Sebastien Loeb
12. Jari-Matti Latvala