The second leg of Rally Argentina turned out to be just as tricky as the competitors feared and provided plenty of twists and turns. It is at times like these that Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena have been unstoppable in the past. The nine-time World Champions were just that today as they grabbed the overall lead, before extending their advantage to 39.8s. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen’s luck deserted them in the afternoon, meaning they fell back to sixth overall in the second DS3 WRC of the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT.
Fighting for the lead from the start of the rally, Sébastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen both considered this second leg to be the most difficult day. Held on roads around a hundred kilometres to the south of Cordoba in the region of Santa Rosa de Calamuchita, both of the loop’s stages featured road surfaces that were littered with embedded rocks, which can be very hard on tyres and the suspension.
The drivers also had to cope with muddy conditions in places, on certain corners. In fact, whilst looking set to win SS6, Sébastien Loeb found himself caught out by the conditions a few kilometres from the end of the stage. On the next test, however, the no.1 DS3 WRC driver was simply unstoppable. He was making ground on Sébastien Ogier at each of the splits, who ended up losing half a minute after making a mistake. Sébastien Loeb therefore took the overall lead in the rally, 8.9s ahead of Mikko Hirvonen and 26.3s clear of Ogier.
“I drove flat out this morning, because I felt really comfortable in the car,” he explained at the mid-day service. “Generally speaking, the grip was good, but we had to be cautious in the muddy sections. I made a mistake on the day’s first stage, and then my rival made one on the next stage. I’m in front now, but the gaps are still pretty small.”
“It went well for us as well, despite running wide a little in a couple of places”, added Mikko. “I really enjoyed the stages today, especially the second one which had a better flow and lots of corners over the crests. As a Finn, I really enjoyed it!”
As if his position of leader gave him wings, Sébastien Loeb was simply unbeatable throughout the second loop. He won his first two stages of the rally and extended his lead to over 40s before the second run on the Villa Carlos Paz super special stage. “As I still felt really good, I decided to push because I knew I could pull clear”, he admitted at the end of SS9. “A 40-second lead seems pretty healthy to me and means I start the final day in a strong position. But it’s not over yet!”
In contrast, the afternoon’s stages proved to be something of an ordeal for Mikko Hirvonen. On SS8, the Finn picked up a puncture after hitting a rock. He lost around thirty seconds and second place. On the next stage, his DS3 WRC stopped for several minutes due to an electrical problem. The Finn managed to finish the stage, but has now dropped back to sixth overall, over six minutes adrift of his team-mate. “Obviously, it’s bitterly disappointing”, noted Mikko. “I knew that a lot of things would happen today, but unfortunately things haven’t worked out in our favour. We just have to keep going to the end to score some points.”
After dropping out of the leading group half-way through day one, Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio continued their rally, keeping out of trouble. “It’s not easy to keep motivated when there’s nothing to win and I haven’t really found the right rhythm”, admitted the Spanish driver.