There was no holding back Sebastien Loeb from taking the World Rally Championship Rally Argentina victory. The Frenchman ended the final fifth stage today with a 36.7-second gap over the Marcus Gronholm. SÃ©bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena,...
There was no holding back Sebastien Loeb from taking the World Rally Championship Rally Argentina victory. The Frenchman ended the final fifth stage today with a 36.7-second gap over the Marcus Gronholm.
Loeb extended the championship points lead by two, now with 48 to Gronholm's 45. Early standings leader Mikko Hirvonen sits third with 36 points. Even with Citroen's lead driver Loeb on top of the standings, Ford still maintains the edge in the Manufacturers' title chase with 81 to Citroen's 72 points after six rounds on the WRC calendar.
The rally in Argentina was not one that many want to remember, with more problems than excitement. Heavy rain overnight Thursday canceled the special stages on the first leg -- only the two Super Specials were held -- that same rain caused the route to be slippery, especially when lighter showers hit the area on Friday night.
Cooler temperatures also came into play in the real action of the mountain region near the Cordoba province. Saturday fell into Loeb's hands when he came out ready to attack in his factory Citroen C4, taking seven of the nine stages.
This morning, with the extra added stage due to Friday's loss of kilometres and the need to complete at least two-thirds of the alloted distance for points to be awarded, the competitors woke up to more rain overnight and soggy routes.
"I went out to push hard this morning but the feeling wasn't so good," commented the Finnish racer. "I ran wide and hit a stone with the rear of the car. I was worried it didn't feel right and it was hard to stay on the road. I dropped eight seconds to Loeb so I knew the fight was over."
Surely second place was not what Gronholm came here to take, but after all the eight points allows him to stay right behind Loeb in the chase for the title.
"I lost a few seconds after sliding off the road at the beginning of the second stage but after that I had no problems. It was a shame that the first leg was canceled and that made it a strange rally. I'm disappointed that the fight with Seb wasn't closer but second and third means that Ford has increased its lead," continued Gronholm.
The French racer backed off a bit in the penultimate stage but came back to win the SS23 finale, the second pass of Estadio Cordoba to close out his victory. Sordo was on a charge, adding to his first stage win by landing the fastest time in SS22, moving from eighth in the general classification after leg two to end up sixth in the final rally standings.
"There was so much fog this morning that there were sections where visibility was down to 20 metres," Hirvonen said. "They were really tricky stages but that is the nature of this rally. Quite often here there is bad weather and fog to deal with. The car has been perfect but I'm a little disappointed with the weekend, although I can't complain about six points and a podium."
Fourth overall in the final picture was Jari-Matti Latvala with a fine performance in his Stobart M-Sport Focus that put him as the surprise of the event in Cordoba to achieve his second time the top four in a the WRC event.
"Today's stages were very difficult with the overnight rain and the roads became rutted which made it very difficult to drive and concentrate. I knew I had a job to do today and that was the most important thing for me; to finish in fourth and get a few more points has made me very happy," Latvala expressed.
Atkinson dropped to seventh as Dani Sordo posted two fastest times to recover sixth following yesterday afternoon's time loss with hydraulic problems in his Citroen C4. Manfred Stohl, with a Citroen Xsara, claimed the final point in eighth.
The World Rally Championship now returns to Europe later this month when the Mediterranean island of Sardinia hosts Rally d'Italia - Sardegna on 17-20 May in a gravel event that is based in Olbia.