By David C. Schilke
Things were looking well for Jari-Matti Latvala in Rally Argentina. The Finn dominated the action on Friday and held the lead all through stage 12, even with Sebastien Ogier chasing him down. However, fate took a harsh twist on Latvala in stage 13, the Ford Fiesta suffered a broken suspension and the Finn was slowed down.
"About 4km from the end I noticed that in braking the car was pulling massively to the right," explained 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.”
Ogier took the win on the very same stage, putting him into the overall lead while the Ford driver frantically tried to repair his damaged car. It was all for not, the team advised him to retire on the next test, rather than risking further damage. With that, the fight for the lead was done; Ogier and Citroen are destined for the win tomorrow.
We know that the race isn’t won till we’re back in the parc fermé.
“Even if I didn’t know today’s stages I felt confident as I liked their profile", said Ogier. "I took advantage of them to push hard and race incidents played in our favour. On paper, we’ve got a big lead. We’ll have to remain concentrated right till the end and we know that the race isn’t won till we’re back in the parc fermé.”
Mikko Hirvonen is in second place, but is too far away to pressure the leader. Instead he’ll be in a fight with Sebastien Loeb to prevent a Citroen one, two finish. Loeb suffered a one minute penalty yesterday and fell down the order but the reigning champ was able to use his road position to claim five stage wins Saturday.
"My driving felt good but the times weren't as fast as I hoped," admitted Hirvonen. "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.”
There are only four seconds between Hirvonen and Loeb heading into a final day that includes the mighty Ascochinga stage, the longest test of Rally Argentina measuring in at 48.21 km (29.95 miles).
“We really got back into the battle today," mused Loeb. "The result’s a lot more satisfactory than yesterday but we can still move up another place. Tomorrow we’re starting with the aim of overtaking Mikko. We’ll have to push hard in the long 48-km stage.”
Petter Solberg held second for some of the day but lost his podium position on the final stage when the privateer Citroen’s power steering failed. If it weren’t for bad luck, Solberg wouldn’t have any luck at all so far in this season. He currently sits fourth, 28 seconds away from the battle over second.
“Right now I’m just so disappointed,” said Solberg. “Everything has been going so well, and we have been on the pace for two days, and then 2 km into to the final stage of the day we lose the power steering and a lot of time. It will be fixed for tomorrow, and I will do my best on all the four stages trying to get some of the lost time back.”
Well behind is a trio of Fiestas with Mads Ostberg holding position over local boy Federico Villagra and Matthew Wilson in seventh. Latvala is scored 8th but will have to take a time penalty if he rejoins the rally tomorrow under Super Rally rules.
Rally Argentina Leg 2 Results