After a day of confusion and bad weather that complicated the normal development of the 27th Rally Argentina, Friday's only special stage took place today at a filled with fans Cordoba stadium where Mikko Hirvonen confirmed he is still the leader...
After a day of confusion and bad weather that complicated the normal development of the 27th Rally Argentina, Friday's only special stage took place today at a filled with fans Cordoba stadium where Mikko Hirvonen confirmed he is still the leader on the sixth round of the World Rally Championship.
Hirvonen, with his co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen, in a works Ford Focus, kept the lead this evening after an opening leg in which virtually the entire itinerary was scrapped after transport problems left many drivers stranded in Buenos Aires last night.
"I have been fastest on every stage in the leg!", the Finn joked adding a touch of humour in what was a hard day for the organizers of the event.
"There were many spectators in Cordoba tonight and it felt better to drive here than in Buenos Aires last night. I love this rally and I can't wait for it to start properly tomorrow," added Hirvonen on a more serious note.
Right behind Hirvonen is Spaniard Dani Sordo, one of the future stars, appeared in the overall ranking with his Citroen C4 in a journey that had both number "two" drivers taking advantage from their team's lead "superstar" drivers as the current three-time WRC champion, Sebastien Loeb, and twice champion Marcus Gronholm ended the shortened leg one in third and fourth place respectively.
Hirvonen leads the way in Argentina -- despite the fact that the activity on the original route has been almost nothing -- with 4:40.0 of total time after winning yesterday in River Plate (Buenos Aires) and today in the Stadium "Chateau Carreras" of Cordoba.
"With no action for most of today I have been catching up on some sleep and preparing for tomorrow by watching in-car videos of the stages from our recce," said the leader who has two WRC wins to his credit.
Sordo was able to jump to second place in the classification after a thrilling head-to-head with Petter Solberg, who ended sixth on the Super Special -- one position adrift of Sordo. The Norwegian holds fifth overall.
The Spaniard has a time of 4:42.4 so far and appears just half a second faster than his teammate for the factory Citroen team as Loeb moved up one place and is now third in the rally standings after beating Gronholm in their head-to-head match in the stadium.
The French ace was one of the voices that remarked about the complexity move from Cordoba to Buenos Aires and then back to Cordoba with not much time alloted for the turn-around.
"When I first heard about what the organizers were planning for the 2007 event, I wasn't particularly enthralled at the idea," Loeb said. "The way things turned out shows there was good reason to be concerned. All these canceled stages are such a shame for all the spectators who were waiting to watch us through the stages. Argentina is a country where rallying is immensely popular and depriving all the fans of today's action is such a sad waste."
Despite the problems of how some of the drivers and team members had to sleep in the airport yesterday, Guy Frequelin, Citroen's team director, proposed to leave behind the issue and move on. "We always receive such a warm welcome here and it would be a pity to deprive ourselves of the trip out to Argentina. Let's put this unhappy incident behind us now and let's get on with the real sport...".
And if to move on is a good idea, then perhaps that is what Gronholm should do for tomorrow after his performance tonight that found him finishing eighth in the SS9, moving from second to fourth to close out the first leg standings, especially when everybody knows the real fight should start on Saturday in the mountains.
"It started to rain in Cordoba just before I started the stage and the surface, which was already wet, became even slippier. I didn't enjoy it and after the problems today it was hard to become motivated for such a short stage," Gronholm said. "I'm looking forward to what I hope will be a better day tomorrow."
Both Loeb and Gronholm were the favorites of the Argentinian fans last night and again tonight, they had the favoritism of the audience in the stadium.
Although that position should be given to Subaru's Solberg, who beyond his performance that saw him taking sixth in the Super Special behind his teammate Chris Atkinson, he once again proved his feeling for the Argentinean audience by waving to the crowd with half his body hanging out of his Impreza WRC 2007.
Jari-Matti Latvala was the big surprise in tonight's stage in Cordoba taking second place, 1.2 seconds off Hirvonen's time and a mere 0.2 seconds ahead of the reigning champion. The move allowed him to recover after a bad start yesterday in River Plate. Latvala, with a Ford Focus of Stobart VK M-Sport, battled the slippery conditions tonight, finishing in second place and moving to 11th in the classification. "The crowd was amazing and I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's stages now after being quick here tonight," he expressed.
It was a strong job for one of the two Argentines competing in the major class of the WRC as Luis Perez Companc finished seventh in SS9 in front of a home crowd which kept him 10th overall.
With the controversy that was the focus of attention today due to last night's fiasco caused by the weather and today's cancellation of the "real" special stages in the Rally Argentina now left behind -- at least for the moment -- FIA officials and the rally organizers will not add extra stages on Saturday but will add the needed ones on Sunday to meet the length requirements for points to be awards.
The rally will continue on Saturday morning with SS10, La Cumbre - Agua de Oro, at 08:23 local time where the real race should start for the delight of the fans.