Dani Sordo, Marc Marti and Citroen emerge in front
The thrilling opening leg of the 2009 Rally Argentina saw no fewer than seven leader changes in the course of just nine stages. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti emerged from the day's final test on top and the Spanish crew will consequently be first on the road tomorrow ahead of Mikko Hirvonen and Sebastien Loeb, who figures on the third step of the overnight podium.
The rally kicked off officially with Thursday evening's super-special at the packed Cordoba Stadium where the ebullient crowd saw Sebastien Loeb post the first fastest time of the weekend. The next morning, competitors headed north to La Cumbre for an initial loop of four stages. The first full day of action produced an exciting scrap between the 2009 WRC's five stars, Sebastien Loeb, Dani Sordo, Mikko Hirvonen, Jarri-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg. The quickest time on SS3 (Ascochinga-La Cumbre 1) for Dani Sordo and Marc Marti saw the Spaniards take the lead for the first time, while Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena who were fourth at this point responded with the best performance on SS5 (San Marcos-Charbonier 1) which took the five-time World Champions to within less than a second of Hirvonen.
"The handicap of running first on the road was bigger in some places than in others," reported Sebastien. "After the first two stages this morning, we decided to modify the differential settings and I also changed they way I drove. This is an event where you mustn't hesitate to adopt a looser driving style and allow the car to slide more than usual. It's not only more enjoyable for the spectators but it also produces better stage times."
Dani felt a little less comfortable on the last two stages of the first loop as he fell back to third place, five seconds behind the then leader: "As in Portugal, it's nice to be part of the fight for top spot. I'm driving very well on the whole, although I did lose a bit of time on SS4 and SS5 where I probably lifted a little too much through the faster portions. I will try to push a bit harder this afternoon."
Back at the service area on the shores of San Roque Lake in Villa Carlos Paz, the C4 WRCs found themselves in the expert hands of Citroen Racing's mechanics who proceeded to make a number of adjustments to their set-up. And, as predicted by Meteo France, rain began to fall from the heavy clouds which had gathered over the region.
The afternoon's programme featured the same four tests as the morning, but in a different order, while the conditions out on the stages remained dry. Dani Sordo profited from the first test of the loop (SS6, Ascochinga-La Cumbre 2) to post the fastest time and recover the lead. Sebastien Loeb then imitated his team-mate with the best time on Friday's penultimate stage (SS8, San Marcos-Charbonier 2), after which Dani Sordo and Mikko Hirvonen emerged as joint leaders, 3.2s clear of the Frenchman.
Dani Sordo was then second quickest on SS9 which enabled him to complete the day clear at the top of the provisional order: "I'm not going to turn my nose up at being in the lead of the Rally Argentina. The crowd is even more fired up than ever! I know it won't be easy for me tomorrow, but then rallying never is easy. I will only have one option, and that will be to attack!"
After stalling on two separate occasions on the last stage of the leg, Sebastien Loeb was disappointed to drop 10 or so seconds: "I pushed hard all day but ended up losing valuable ground in two hairpins. A deficit of 16 seconds isn't insurmountable but it's a bigger gap than I would have liked..."