Argentina seems to favour the setting of new rallying records. After Carlos Sainz claimed the 26th WRC win of his career here last year with Citroen-Michelin, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena (Citroen-Michelin) established a new record today when...
Argentina seems to favour the setting of new rallying records. After Carlos Sainz claimed the 26th WRC win of his career here last year with Citroen-Michelin, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena (Citroen-Michelin) established a new record today when they collected a sixth consecutive victory. In the grips of the Argentine winter, Sebastien Loeb gave his absolute best to successfully ward off the charge of a particularly pugnacious Marcus Gronholm (2nd, Peugeot). The Michelin Z BTO tyre -- used this weekend in a new soft compound version -- remains unbeaten since its launch in last April's Rally New Zealand.
Didier Auriol's longstanding record of five wins in a row set while driving for Lancia-Michelin in 1992 has at last been beaten this weekend... by Sebastien Loeb. The 2004 World Champion effectively secured his sixth consecutive win -- and his seventh of the season -- at the end of a particularly dramatic Rally Argentina. Thanks to this result, Loeb continues to top the 2005 Drivers' points table and has pulled even further clear of his pursuers, Scandinavia's Petter Solberg (Subaru), Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) and Toni Gardemeister (Ford-Michelin) who will all be on home ground in three weeks time when the calendar moves on to Rally Finland (August 5th-8th). Sebastien Loeb's sixth win in a row was far from a mere formality. In the very wet conditions of the first two legs, and again over the frozen ground of the third and final day (ground temperature: -6C), the Citroen star was forced to push hard throughout to get the better over Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) and Petter Solberg and had edged respectively 27.9 seconds and more than a minute clear of his two rivals by Saturday evening.
The rally kicked off on Thursday evening with two attempts at the super-special held near Villa Carlos Paz in front of 40,000 spectators. These were won in turn by Gronholm and Solberg, but serious business began on the Friday morning as the event's epicentre moved to La Cumbre, north of Cordoba. Petter Solberg was quickest over the morning's first test but Sebastien Loeb claimed the next two stages to take the lead. Four further fastest times during the afternoon -- as well as a close encounter with a roaming cow! -- saw the Frenchman conclude Leg 1 with a lead of more than 30s over Solberg and 45s over Gronholm.
Gronholm is generally at ease over the southernmost stages programmed on the Saturday and this year was no exception. He effectively posted three best times in a row to steal 2nd place from Solberg, closing in the process to within 25 second of Loeb who dropped 10 seconds in a spin on SS13. Two further fastest times for the Frenchman allowed him to stabilise his cushion over Gronholm, but he was perfectly aware that Sunday's menu -- which included two Rally Argentina classics, Giulio Cesare and El Condor -- could spring a theses two tests on the Saturday.
By the time the drivers reached the start of El Condor early Sunday morning, the snow had disappeared however but the ground was frozen by sub-zero temperatures. At an altitude of more than 2,000 metres, the thermometer had plunged to -6C and the sensation of cold was compounded by a freezing wind. In the end, Sebastien Loeb successfully warded off Gronholm's last day charge to return to Villa Carlos Paz to take the laurels.
During the long first day, which featured around half the weekend's total competitive distance (162 km), Toni Gardemeister (Ford-Michelin) rapidly emerged in 4th place ahead of Rovanpera (Mitsubishi) and Martin (Peugeot) despite bending a steering rod early on. The next day saw Rovanpera close on his fellow Finn and the duel for 4th place was one of the highlights of the final day. The Mitsubishi driver effectively closed to within 5 seconds after the El Condor test, but Gardemeister, running on the new, very soft compound Michelin 'Z8-' BTO tyre, was fastest overall over the legendary Giulio Cesare stage. A mere 7.8 seconds split the two men before the last two runs at the super-special which ended the rally, but Gardemeister held firm. The return match between the Finnish pair could well come on home ground in August's Rally Finland!
SIX ON THE TROT FOR SEB AND DANIEL Congratulations to Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena (Citroen-Michelin) for their record sixth consecutive win which beats the previous best established in 1992 when Didier Auriol and Bernard Occelli collected five victories in a row in 1992 with Lancia-Michelin.
SEVENTH WIN FROM NINE STARTS Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and Michelin tyres have claimed their seventh win from the nine rounds contested since January 2005. This run beats the existing record of six wins in the same season established in 1992 by Didier Auriol. That year, the Frenchman took part in 10 of the championship's 14 rounds.
MICHELIN'S 220th Sebastien Loeb's victory with Citroen this weekend gave Michelin its 220th WRC success since 1973, another outright record... Michelin has won 16 of the 25 Rally Argentinas organised since 1980. Its first win in Argentina came in 1981 thanks to a certain Guy Frequelin (Talbot Sunbeam Lotus). That year's event also took place in very wintry weather conditions (July 18th-23rd 1981).
MICHELIN Z8 BTO, AN EXTENSION OF THE Z BTO RANGE Rally Argentina saw Michelin launch a new, soft compound version of the Michelin Z BTO (Z8 and Z8-). This tyre was tested in Great Britain last March. Michelin's driver partners principally used the Z8 version (soft) on Friday and Saturday (ground temperature: 10C) and then switched to the Z8- version (very soft) for the frozen conditions of Sunday's leg (ground temperature: -6C).
THE MICHELIN Z BTO STILL UNBEATEN Since its launch in New Zealand, the Michelin Z BTO (for Braking & Traction Optimisation) has won every WRC round it has contested. All the available specifications of the tyre have contributed to this series: the medium compound Z9 in Sardinia, the hard compound Z9+ in Cyprus, the wide option Z9+ in Greece and the soft compound Z8/Z8- this weekend in Argentina. The tyre has also triumphed in a wide variety of conditions, ranging from searing heat in Cyprus and Greece to the damp sand and frozen gravel of Argentina and the mud encountered in Turkey...