WRC

Rally Argentina: Ford Rallye Sport leg one review

Sainz tops solid start from Ford Rallye Sport trio. Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya fought back strongly after an early setback to head Ford Rallye Sport's challenge on the Rally Argentina during today's tough opening leg. After a day of wildly ...

Sainz tops solid start from Ford Rallye Sport trio.

Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya fought back strongly after an early setback to head Ford Rallye Sport's challenge on the Rally Argentina during today's tough opening leg. After a day of wildly contrasting weather conditions in the mountains and across the vast open pampas, their Focus RS World Rally Car lies fifth, with team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist ninth and Markko Märtin and Michael Park in 10th.

The massive crowds who witnessed last night's ceremonial start of this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Villa Carlos Paz, flocked into today's sandy speed tests to the north across the Punilla Valley and Sierra Chicas mountains. The numbers were so huge that the first of the nine special stages, comprising 153.79km, was cancelled for safety reasons although the remainder ran with no problems.

Drivers faced a variety of weather conditions, ranging from dry and dusty tracks to wet and muddy roads this morning, and thick fog this afternoon which played a vital part in the make-up of tonight's leaderboard. The fog descended quickly onto the final two stages but lifted just as rapidly, meaning that drivers at the head of the running order endured treacherous driving while those further down had a clear run and benefited by more than a minute in some cases.

Sainz and Moya lost about 20 seconds on the opening stage with a minor power steering problem but recovered well to climb back from ninth on a rally well-known for its attrition. The 40-year-old Madrid-based driver used all his experience and skill in the fog to post fourth and fifth fastest times on the day's final two tests.

"It was very foggy nearly all the way through both stages," he said. "In those conditions it's so easy to make a mistake and anything can happen. On one hand you can lose many seconds but if you are brave enough you can also gain a lot of time. I had a good feeling with the car and we must now wait to see what tomorrow brings.

"The stages will be a lot more rutted after being used today and who knows what will happen with the weather? We must see what it is like in the morning and see how the day develops," added Sainz.

McRae admitted he made a slow start and then lost more time with a mistake on the second stage. "We spun at a fourth gear left bend and the nose of the car ended up tight against a bank," explained the 33-year-old Scot. "The road was very narrow at that point so we had to edge backwards and forwards several times before we could get going again." The manoeuvring bent a tooth in the gearbox of the Focus RS and the team fitted a replacement at service.

"My slow start, the spin and the fog meant I had a clear run on only two tests apart from the short superspecial stages. In the fog you can make very fast times like Marcus Grönholm if you're prepared to take chances but at this early point in the rally we weren't ready to take those chances," he added.

Märtin was competing in Argentina for the first time and a combination of the morning dust and the afternoon fog provided a steep learning curve. "The dust was so bad in places that it was really difficult to pick out the corners," said the 26-year-old Estonian. "We're here to learn and there was no point in being stupid so I eased off and took no risks. The fog could only have been worse had it been dark. I don't know these stages and I couldn't tell what was road and what was ditch. I need to eat more carrots to see well in those conditions!"

Ford Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson admitted it had been a difficult day. "The conditions haven't been easy for us today but maybe road position and the weather will be in our favour tomorrow. Apart from a minor problem for Carlos this morning, all three Focus RS cars have run reliably and that's often the key to a good result here," he said.

News from our Rivals

World championship leader Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot) dominated the day to post five fastest times, including a sensational performance in the fog on the penultimate stage when he was quickest by 45.1sec. He leads by 1min 40.3sec from Tommi Mäkinen (Subaru) who lost time on the same test with an electronic problem in the gearbox. Richard Burns (Peugeot) overcame a minor engine problem this morning to hold third ahead of Petter Solberg (Subaru) who complained of daylong stomach ache. Freddy Loix (Hyundai) set his first fastest time for the team on the final stage to climb to fifth but team-mate Juha Kankkunen lost seventh when he dropped six minutes after going off on the previous test. Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) was sixth but an engine problem forced him to push the car 800m to the final service park and he collected extra penalties to slide to 11th. Team-mate Harri Rovanperä spent most of the day in the top four but lost out heavily in the fog, slipping to seventh. The only major retirements were Francois Delecour (Mitsubishi) and Armin Schwarz (Hyundai). Delecour rolled after misjudging his line on a flat-out jump and landing on a rock. The impact damaged the front right suspension and although he tried to continue the suspension collapsed. Schwarz (Hyundai) lost six minutes after sliding into a ditch on the third stage but his rally ended on the final test with no fuel pressure.

Tomorrow's Route

The second leg follows an identical route and time schedule to the first. Competitors leave Villa Carlos Paz at 06.40 and return at 18.42 after nine more stages covering 153.79km.

-frs-

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Freddy Loix , Richard Burns , Harri Rovanpera , Gilles Panizzi , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , François Delecour , Armin Schwarz , Juha Kankkunen , Luis Moya , Nicky Grist , Michael Park , Malcolm Wilson