The sixth round of the World Rally Championship truly began today in the mountains of the province of Cordoba, and the reigning champion came out swinging. By the end of Rally Argentina leg two, Sebastien Loeb held a slight 19.2-second lead over...
The sixth round of the World Rally Championship truly began today in the mountains of the province of Cordoba, and the reigning champion came out swinging. By the end of Rally Argentina leg two, Sebastien Loeb held a slight 19.2-second lead over main rival Marcus Gronholm.
"There are only two days of competition, so we can't afford to hang about," explained Loeb. "I immediately felt comfortable with my C4 but I didn't have any split-times for my rivals, although that was only a problem for us on SS10. When I saw the gaps at the end of the stage, I knew my pace was just right. I tried to keep the same rhythm for the rest of the morning and I was able to pull out a cushion."
And after the Thursday overnight rain, the last thing anyone wanted was more wet stuff to remind them of Friday's mess. Yet cooler temperatures and damp conditions did make for easy tire selection and good racing.
"It was good to finally get started on the real stages this morning," commented Gronholm. "The roads were very rough and the underneath of the car was hitting the ground in places. I didn't feel comfortable with that. We had no difficulties with the river crossings in the stages, although we went through a deep crossing after the finish of the first stage this morning and changed the air filter before the next test as a precaution."
After the final special stage, SS18 Santa Rosa - San Agustin II, Loeb had an overall time of 1:44:13.0, with the Finn having completed the same eight specials and two super specials (stadium contest) in 1:44:32.2.
Loeb, in his works Citroen C4, won seven of the nine specials held today; Gronholm took the other two. After Loeb won the first five ran this morning, Gronholm placed his Ford Focus fastest on the 21.41km first pass of Santa Rosa - San Agustin, a win which he repeated to close out the day.
"He has always been very strong on these stages," said Loeb on beating the Finn on an event that suits Gronholm's style. "We were quicker than him on two occasions (SS16 and 17) which enabled us to increase our lead by a further 3.8 seconds by the end of the loop. I think that says a great deal again about the potential of our Citroen C4."
Gronholm did make a comeback to keep Loeb from stretching out a nice cushion, the Ford driver explained the difference between the morning and afternoon runs: "My confidence was good this afternoon and I drove at 110 per cent. The roads were superb and I had really good grip. We made the springs harder at the lunchtime service and the handling was great this afternoon. The gap between myself and Loeb isn't huge and if it is foggy and tricky tomorrow then the time gaps on the long stages could be big,"
Unfortunately for Petter Solberg and the Subaru World Rally team, his Impreza WRC's engine gave up during SS15, thereby putting an end to any chance of a seemingly promised Rally Argentina podium finish.
"I didn't want my 100th rally for Subaru to end this way," said the Norwegian. "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."
In the second Impreza for the factory team, Chris Atkinson has a new navigator, Stephane Prevot, and while the two were getting use to working together, they suffered handling issues today.
With the Subaru situation, Mikko Hirvonen, in the second works Ford Focus, is in third spot, 1:25.3 from Loeb in the general classification, followed by Jari-Matti Latvala and Henning Solberg to round out the top five.
"I just couldn't find the speed," admitted Hirvonen. "I struggled to find the right feeling and rhythm this morning. "But I'm still in a strong position. I have no fight in front or behind tomorrow so I hope to conserve the position that I have and concentrate on finishing the rally."
The day ended on a somber note when it was learned that a local resident, hit by a Class N car running in the Production class, died from the injuries sustained.
It was announced today that Sunday's final leg will include an extra stage, bringing leg three's specials to five. The FIA and organizers added a second pass of Mina Clavero-Giulio Cesare. The extra 24.45km is to make up for the loss of Friday's seven special stages, thereby meeting the two-thirds rule and allowing all drivers to have access to full championship points.
The activity for the final day of the 27th Rally Argentina will continue in the morning starting with the added stage (SS19a), bringing the total competitive distance of the leg has increased to 82.40km.