Schilke, WRC correspondent
Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena now have seven consecutive victories in Rally Argentina. The points leading team only had to run at their own pace and not take any chances in today’s final leg of the FIA World Rally Championship fifth round on the 2012 calendar. Teammate Mikko Hirvonen finished second in his DS3; but the expected final podium finish for Dani Sordo in the Ford Fiesta went out the door on the final stage, handing third to fellow Ford driver Mads Ostberg.
“It’s great to get back to winning ways after drawing a blank in Portugal. Everything went really well this weekend. Although the first few stages didn’t go quite how we’d have liked, we stayed calm and in the end we were able to take control of the race. I like Rally Argentina because I have had a lot of success here and because the itinerary is always superb. It is always immensely satisfying to win here.”
The Frenchman pocketed his 70th world event victory. The eight-time champions have stood on the top step of the podium three times this season. Today’s win was another amazing comeback for Loeb and Elena. On the first leg, they spun not once, but twice and by the midway break, the lead was far out of their hands. They ended the day with a bit of a relief as Petter Solberg for the Ford works team had a failure on his and Chris Patterson’s Fiesta RS.
Day two opened with Loeb and Hirvonen battling for the top spot before Citroen put an end to the fun the two drivers were having. Loeb had the lead at leg two’s midway point with Hirvonen and his co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen in second. The Finn closed the gap by two-tenths of a second to Loeb on the SS15 stage and Hirvonen explained, “It doesn’t change anything,” Hirvonen said at the midway break. “I wasn’t particularly trying to go faster, but we didn't go for the same tyre choice which explains why the gap was reduced. I am now focused on the Power Stage: I am going to look after my tyres so I can try to pick up points on the last four kilometres.”
Hirvonen leaves Argentina with two bonus points from placing second in the Power Stage. After being excluded from the win in Portugal, Hirvonen was glad to finish second and the Finn said, “This result is perfect for the team and the twenty points I scored this weekend take me back up to third in the overall standings. I’m also pleased with the pace I managed to maintain until Saturday lunchtime. I have made further progress in my understanding of the DS3 WRC and I can’t wait to compete in the coming rallies!”
The world rally event has never been easy for the competitors and the final leg had the longest special stage, known as the monster, it was 65.74 km. After the stage, Loeb said “Everything went well for us. We didn’t make the right decision in opting to fit soft tyres, but it didn't matter in the end. The long stage was… really long. I thought it would go quickly, but I had trouble trying to stay focused right to the end.”
Sordo and Carlos del Barrio had an alternator failure just 4 km from the finish line of SS19. It was their first time in the Ford Fiesta RS and after only a one day test the duo did a great job for the Ford works team in place of the injured Jari-Matti Latvala. “At the finish of the penultimate stage there were alarms flashing in the car indicating a battery problem,” explained Sordo. “We started the final stage but less than 1km into the test the car stopped. It’s a disappointing way to finish, but the weekend was a good experience. I was happy with my performance. Finishing was our goal so not to do so was sad, but it was good working with the team. I’d like to thank Ford and M-Sport for giving me the opportunity to drive the Fiesta RS WRC. I loved the car and really enjoyed my four days of Rally Argentina.”
That opened the door for Ostberg and co-driver Jonas Andersson to take the final podium step in their Adapta Ford Fiesta. Another good showing this year by the Norwegian who said, “It has been another interesting rally for sure! Obviously I am happy to have another podium, but again this is not the way we wanted to get it. I am so sorry for Dani – he did a great job all weekend. I can’t really enjoy this podium as much as I would like to, but it shows you that a rally isn’t over until it’s over!”
Following their M-Sport prepared Ford team was the fourth place Czech duo of Martin Prokop and co-driver Zdenĕk Hrůza. “Incredible! This is a fantastic result for us and DMACK. The rally was a real challenge, but I really enjoyed the stages and had a lot of fun,” said Prokop.
Citroen Junior driver Thierry Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul had to use the Rally 2 rule to restart on the second leg. Yesterday, the Belgian’s goal was to move from eighth to sixth, and ended up with fifth! Neuville admitted yesterday he said “my goal is to keep him behind us”, and the “him” being Solberg. The Belgian reached his goal, even with the Norwegian winning all six stages today.
“I’m pleased with where I finished, despite my mistake on day one. This is our best result in the WRC. In the end, it’s probably true that our mishap only cost us one place. I know that I have the speed; I just need to work on being consistent. In Greece, I really must complete the rally without making any mistakes. That will be my one and only goal,” said Neuville.
Solberg and Patterson for the Ford works team tamed the monster SS14 stage, and ended up winning all of today’s six stages as the Norwegian was making up lost ground from starting 11th on Saturday with the Rally 2 rule. He was hot on leg two with three stage wins but today was a clean sweep, and with the fastest time in the Power Stage, he earned the needed three points.
“After what happened on Friday, I have to be happy with sixth,” said Solberg. “To win all six tests and the Power Stage today was perfect. I’m proud of what we achieved yesterday and today. Friday was the toughest day I’ve had for a long time, but the result shows why you should never give up, no matter what the situation.”
While sixth place was not what Solberg, Patterson and the team wanted when they arrived in Argentina, their points today handed Ford and world rally a new benchmark for the future: 150 consecutive points!
“The stages were enjoyable and the car felt good, so I was able to push hard today. The disappointing thing is that I could have won. This could have been my first victory for a long time, but we’ll continue to work hard and I know it will come soon,” added Solberg.
Eighth place was earned by Evgeny Novikov and his co-driver Denis Giraudet. With the Volkswagen entry in 2013, their drivers are contesting this season with a Skoda Fabia S2000 and taking seventh in the Argentinean demanding rally were Sebastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia.
The next World Rally event will be back in Europe for the Acropolis Rally in Greece.