Marcus Gronholm staged one of the most astonishing come back drives to win Rally Argentina, round five of the FIA World Rally Championship in his Peugeot 206 WRC. The Finn started the day 15.2 seconds behind Markko Martin, but was leading when the...
Marcus Gronholm staged one of the most astonishing come back drives to win Rally Argentina, round five of the FIA World Rally Championship in his Peugeot 206 WRC. The Finn started the day 15.2 seconds behind Markko Martin, but was leading when the cars came out of the first stage this morning. The engine failed on Martin's Focus, robbing him of the chance to fight with the reigning world champion over leg three's five stages. Nobody could match Gronholm's time through the SS21, after which he had a 20.2-second lead over Carlos Sainz. Sainz -- who had led the event until confusion between himself and co-driver Marc Marti left him booking into a control early and incurring a one-minute penalty -- lost the runners-up spot to Richard Burns, who nosed his Peugeot ahead of the Citroen on the penultimate test, despite problems with the turbo on his 206. Those problems worsened on the final stage, however, dropping him back behind the Citroen. Some consolation for Burns was that he still leads the driver's championship -- by two points from Gronholm -- while Peugeot remains at the front of the race for the manufacturer's award.
Technical: The Peugeots of Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera ran without any problems, but Richard Burns' car suffered turbo problems on the final three stages.
Sporting: Marcus Gronholm moved to the head of the field after the opening stage of the day and went into the final loop of stages with an 18.5 second advantage. He maintained that lead through the last loop of stages, winning the event by 26.6 seconds from Carlos Sainz. Burns ensured that Peugeot held two of the three podium places by bringing his car home third. He was second for one stage, before turbo failure intervened.
Marcus Gronholm said: "I am very happy to have come back and won this rally. When we hit the rock on the first day I thought there was no chance that I could get a result like this. We drove absolutely flat out this morning, but not taking any risks. The Fords have pushed us quite hard in some places, but this is a good result for me and for Peugeot."
Richard Burns said: "The anti-lag system on the turbo stopped working for all of the last three stages, but then we had some sort of turbo failure eight kilometres from the finish of the final stage. I was happy to have got ahead of Carlos on the penultimate stage, given that it was difficult to drive the car without the ALS system. I was not happy at falling behind him on the last stage, but leading the championship is some small consolation."
Harri Rovanpera said: "After the terrible start to the season that I have had, I am quite glad to make it to the finish in fourth place. This is always a tough rally and this year has been more of the same. We had a few problems during the day, but okay we are here."
Technical: Carlos Sainz's Citroen Xsara WRC ran without mechanical fault through the final leg. Sebastien Loeb crashed off the road yesterday, while Colin McRae retired on Friday when his car caught fire.
Sporting: Sainz dropped time to Gronholm on the opening test of leg three, but went quickest on the next stage. The Spaniard admitted he was pushing as hard as he could, and found himself embroiled in a battle for second place with Richard Burns. Burns passed him on the penultimate stage, but Sainz re-passed him for the place on the final competitive section of the rally.
Carlos Sainz said: "I have been going at the absolute maximum through the stages today. Marcus was always going to be very hard to beat, but I had hoped to keep Richard behind me. We had some small problems, nearly stalling on the start line of one stage and then nearly stalling in the middle of another stage. After the position we were in yesterday, this is disappointing, but still we have good points for the championship."
Technical: Petter Solberg's Impreza WRC03 ran without fault through the final leg.
Sporting: Solberg spent another day altering the set-up of his car. He caught Francois Duval in SS22, losing some time in the Belgian driver's dust, but still made it home in fifth place, picking up four championship points. The team took the decision to withdraw Tommi Makinen at the end of leg two, happy with the test data they had gained throughout Saturday.
Petter Solberg said: "You wouldn't believe how much we have changed the car over the past three days, but all of the time the car has been getting better and better. I am really growing in confidence with the suspension now. The gaps ahead and behind were big, so for us today was another test day."
David Lapworth said: "I'm very pleased with the way Petter and Tommi have performed. We had some new parts on the car here and they have worked very well. If you take away the time both of the cars lost, then you can see that we are right up the at the sharp end."
Technical: Both Octavia WRCs ran without any mechanical problems today.
Sporting: Didier Auriol admitted that his car still didn't feel quite right on the bumpier stages, but he was doing enough to keep his team-mate Toni Gardemeister at bay. Both the Skoda drivers benefited from the retirement of Armin Schwarz, moving in to the sixth and seventh positions they would hold until the end of the event.
Didier Auriol said: "Today hasn't been too bad. We took off on the biggest jump on the second stage this morning and flew, the car landed on its side -- it was very close to an accident. The biggest jump of my life. This has been a long event, and towards the end we were pushing really hard to try to catch Armin, but then he retired and we got the sixth place. I am happy with the result."
Toni Gardemeister said: "Looking at the times, you always start to wonder what the result would have been like without the penalty and without the problems we have had during the event. You can always say that, this is the way with rallying. The stages today have been good. It was strange this morning, maybe we were struggling with the traction or something, it felt good while I was driving -- but the times were not so good."
Technical: Markko Martin retired with an engine problem 11.4 kilometres into the first stage this morning. Francois Duval suffered gearbox and engine trouble. Mikko Hirvonen's car ran without mechanical fault.
Sporting: Martin's efforts to win his first ever round of the FIA World Rally Championship, came to nought in the first stage this morning. Duval had started the day seventh and would have moved up one place at the expense of his team-mate. Unfortunately he went in the opposite direction after gearbox problems and then engine problems slowed him on his run in through the final leg. He ended the event in eighth place. Mikko Hirvonen enjoyed the final day more than either of the previous two. Running at the head of the field was an advantage for him, the warm, dry weather creating dusty conditions for those following him.
Markko Martin said: "The engine felt fine for the first ten kilometres of the stage, but then we started to lose power and the oil pressure warning light came on. I asked the team what to do and they told me to switch off, otherwise the engine would have been destroyed. This is another big disappointment. It was always going to be hard work keeping Marcus behind, but we would have given it a really good go. Certainly I think we could have kept Carlos and Richard behind."
Francois Duval said:"On the first stage this morning, we only had three gears (first, second and third) after one kilometre. Then it started to change gear by itself. On the second stage, the gearbox was stuck in second gear. Everything was getting very hot, the engine, transmission everything. The team changed the gearbox, but we still had problems on the final loop."
Mikko Hirvonen said: "The car has been perfect today. I enjoyed the first two stages this morning, but then for the last three I decided not to push too hard, really I was just checking my notes. This is good experience for me to finish this event."
Malcolm Wilson said: "I'm disappointed, but once again we have shown the pace that the car has. We always said that Greece would be a fair place to judge the new car. I'm sure that we will have got rid of these gremlins before then. We know what the problem is with the transmission on the car and I know it won't be a problem for the next rally."
Technical: Armin Schwarz retired from the event on SS24. The engine on his Accent WRC had failed. Freddy Loix retired the sister car on day one with a broken boost pressure sensor.
Sporting: Schwarz had maintained his sensible pace, holding sixth overall after the second run at the La Falda test. The German's only problem until then had been the dust on the first three stages. He had found visibility particularly difficult in the high-speed sections of the stage. Schwarz pulled over two kilometres from the end of the SS24, reporting engine failure.
A team spokesman said: "We don't know exactly what the problem with the car is, but it sounds like it may be the head gasket. This is a big blow for Armin, Manfred and the whole team. Sixth place would have given both Armin and Hyundai a lot of points. It's a real shame. Armin had done precisely what we asked of him, driving to make sure he got to the finish. Then this happens, it's a tough sport."
Toshi Arai dominated this third round of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship in his Subaru Impreza. The Japanese driver enjoyed a trouble-free run through the final five stages to arrive back in Villa Carlos Paz with more than 2 minutes advantage over Dani Sola who had struggled with a puncture on the first day and then turbo trouble through the next leg.
British driver Niall McShea held second place, but his hopes of a big points score were wiped out on the final loop of stages, however, when the intercooler broke. Karamjit Singh took third in his Proton Pert.
Gabriel Raies was the leading non-factory World Rally Car. This was an emotional event for the local Toyota Corolla WRC driver. The 47-year-old bows out of the sport after 25 years, finishing the event in tenth position.