Saturday brought mixed fortunes: after setting strong stage times and battling as high as second overall, Petter Solberg and Phil Mills were forced to retire from the leg when a mechanical problem stopped them on SS17. Chris Atkinson and Stephane...
Saturday brought mixed fortunes: after setting strong stage times and battling as high as second overall, Petter Solberg and Phil Mills were forced to retire from the leg when a mechanical problem stopped them on SS17. Chris Atkinson and Stephane Prevot remained on course for points -- at the end of the leg they were in sixth position in their first rally together.
SS10: 0823HRS LA CUMBRE -- AGUA DE ORO (18.70KM)
After the organisers of Rally Argentina were forced to cancel almost all
of Friday's leg, there was a general sense of relief at 0655hrs when
cars left Carlos Paz for the Calamuchita region and the first proper
stage of the rally. The La Cumbre stage is a familiar piece of road, and
was included in the rally in 2005 and 2006. It starts with a steep climb
along a narrow hill track lined with rocks and boulders and then winds
gradually downhill to the finish. There was some light rain in the air as
crews began the stage at 0823hrs, the ground was damp and there were some
fog patches in places. Petter Solberg got off to an excellent start and
set the second-fastest time to move into second place overall, while
Chris Atkinson had a clean run to secure sixth place overall.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 15m 35.1s
SS11: 0921HRS ASCOCHINGA -- LA CUMBRE (23.28KM)
Crews drove a 29km liaison section from the end of SS10 directly to the
town of Ascochinga and the start of SS11. Another historic Rally
Argentina stage, and the longest of the day, the 23km road to La Cumbre
begins with an eight kilometre climb, which gets less steep nearer the
finish but becomes technical and twisty. There was still a little bit of
fog on the stage -- especially on the higher altitude parts towards the
end. Petter Solberg lost around 10 seconds when he spun his Subaru on the
damp, sandy surface, but still managed to set the fourth fastest time.
Chris Atkinson, on his first event with new co-driver Stephane Prevot,
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 14m 45.2s
SS12: 1014HRS VILLA GIARDINO -- LA FALDA 2 (15.50KM)
Following a short refuel halt in La Cumbre, cars headed south to two
stages around La Falda, a town about 50km from Villa Carlos Paz. SS12 is
one of the most varied in the rally and features everything from slow
twisty sections, to watersplashes, jumps, blind crests and long straights
which are driven absolutely flat out. At the wheel of his Impreza WRC2007
Petter Solberg remained firmly in the battle for the lead with Sebastien
Loeb, Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen. Solberg's third quickest time
through the stage kept him third overall. Meanwhile another good time
from Chris Atkinson moved him to within 0.1sec of Dani Sordo's fifth
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 11m 02.6s
SS13: 1045HRS VALLE HERMOSO -- CASAGRANDE 2 (10.95KM)
The fourth stage of the day began from Valle Hermoso, a five kilometre
drive from the finish line of SS12. The short 10km sprint was last used
in 2005 and includes dozens of sharp corners, watersplashes and, at the
mid-point, one of the biggest jumps of the rally. Loeb recorded his
fourth consecutive stage win but Solberg was the second fastest driver,
just 1.3sec off the Frenchman's pace. Gronholm was third fastest through
the stage, with Hirvonen fourth and Atkinson rounding off the top five.
As a result the Australian moved into fifth place overall, two seconds
ahead of Sordo in sixth.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 7m 11.3s
SS14: 1126HRS COSQUIN -- TANTI 2 (11.27KM)
The final stage before the midday service halt was the 11km section to
Tanti which was run previously in 2004 and 2005, albeit in the reverse
direction. Loeb was quickest, to complete a clean sweep of the morning's
stages, while Gronholm was second and Solberg third. A stall cost Chris
Atkinson around 10 seconds and dropped him back to sixth place behind
Sordo. After the finish control crews drove back to Carlos Paz for a
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 6m 9.5s
SS15: 1413HRS SANTA ROSA -- SAN AGUSTIN 1 (21.41KM)
Saturday afternoon's loop of stages was based around the town of Santa
Rosa de Calamuchita, 60km south of Villa Carlos Paz. In contrast to the
twisty and technical roads of the morning, stages 15 to 18 featured a
more flowing route and speeds were far higher as a result. Morning rain
showers had left the gravel road surface damp and muddy in places,
although the skies were clearing and the rain had stopped by the time the
cars arrived. The familiar trio of Gronholm, Loeb and Solberg went
quickest, although Gronholm edged 2.6sec ahead of the others to take his
first win of the rally. Solberg's third-fastest time kept him in the
fight for the lead, and allowed him to pull further ahead of Hirvonen.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 12m 48.1s
SS16: 1506HRS LAS BAJADAS -- VILLA DEL DIQUE (16.35KM)
The short 16km test from Las Bajadas was another extremely fast piece of
road. The stage included numerous straights - some up to 800m long - and
several watersplashes and jumps. After tying the stage win with his
brother here in 2006, eighth-placed Henning Solberg produced his best
form of the rally to set the third-fastest time, three seconds ahead of
Petter. Nevertheless, another consistent performance from Petter kept him
third overall, and he extended the gap to Hirvonen to more that 25sec.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 8m 39.8s
SS17: 1552HRS AMBOY -- SANTA MONICA (20.29KM)
The penultimate test of the leg was another high-speed stage and could
have been the setting for a classic battle between the top three drivers.
But for Petter Solberg the stage was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Eleven kilometres from the start line, Solberg's car suffered a
mechanical problem which brought it to a standstill. Unable to continue,
Solberg was forced to retire from the leg. The stage was won by Loeb, who
extended his overall rally lead to 19.4sec. At the midday service Chris
Atkinson reported that he was unable to find sufficient traction in the
wet, slippery sections, and he remained off the pace in the afternoon.
Atkinson set the ninth-fastest time, and remained in seventh overall.
Fastest time: Loeb (Citroen) 10m 19.4s
SS18: 1657HRS SANTA ROSA -- SAN AGUSTIN 2 (21.41KM)
The last stage of the leg was the only one of Saturday's tests to be
repeated. It had been won by Gronholm when it was run earlier as SS15,
and Gronholm won the repeat pass too. Citroen's Dani Sordo lost almost
one and a half minutes on the stage and dropped to seventh. Chris
Atkinson, now up to sixth again, ended the day on a positive note by
setting the sixth-fastest time.
Fastest time: Gronholm (Ford) 12m 56.3s
Subaru World Rally Team Managing Director, Richard Taylor: "Today started very brightly for us, with Petter moving up to second place and Chris holding fifth position. Disappointingly, the afternoon brought retirement for Petter with what we suspect to be an engine problem. During the day Chris experienced a few issues with the handling and slipped back one place to sixth overall, but we'll work on improving things for him for the five stages tomorrow, so that he can consolidate his position and hopefully come home in the points."
CAR NUMBER 8
Chris Atkinson: "Stephane and I are working well together in the car and sixth place overall is a good position to build on, but unfortunately today I haven't been as competitive as I'd wanted to be. We've had a few issues with the feeling of the car during the leg, and I wasn't able to push all of the time. I'll be working with the engineers this evening to see if we can find a solution for tomorrow's stages. There is still a long way to go and we have the potential to break into the top five."
CAR NUMBER 7
Petter Solberg: "I didn't want my 100th rally for Subaru to end this way. It is such a disappointment, because we were going well in third position and I had a good feeling with the car. We had no warning of the problem, it just happened suddenly during the stage and that was that. The car showed great potential, in particular on the morning's stages, and we were looking forward to the rest of the rally. It's a great shame, and frustrating because we have not been able to show how we are progressing with the car. It's getting better all the time. For sure, it is not perfect yet, but we have new developments coming for Sardinia which will make it better to drive and hopefully we can compete for a win. As it is we are behind just a little bit, but here the performance was very good from the start."
In light of the eight cancelled tests on Friday, the final leg of the rally has been revamped to include an extra stage. The crews will now tackle the 23.18km Mina Clavero -- Giulio Cesare stage twice instead of once. It means the number of stages tomorrow is now five and the total competitive distance of the leg has increased to 82.40km.