Three in a row for Loeb Citroen/BFGoodrich's Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena secured their third consecutive win in the space of two months today in Argentina. And also for the third time running, the Citroen pair ...
Three in a row for Loeb
Citroen/BFGoodrich's Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena secured their third consecutive win in the space of two months today in Argentina. And also for the third time running, the Citroen pair finished ahead of Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen* (Ford/BFGoodrich). The two former World Champions were joined on the podium in Villa Carlos Paz by Mikko Hirvonen, while the result sees Sebastien Loeb and BP-Ford increase their respective leads at the top of the Drivers' and Manufacturers' points tables.
It took some time for the 2007 Rally Argentina to really get started and the first two days saw competitors cover no more than 4.8km, essentially three laps of the River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires, plus three others of the Estadio Château Carreras in Cordoba. Adverse weather conditions on Thursday played havoc with the organisers' plans to fly the crews and officials back from the Argentine capital to the rally's base in Villa Carlos Paz, some 700km to the west. When there were no drivers for some of the competing cars ? which had returned by road ? for Friday morning's re-start, the organisers had no choice but to cancel the day's stages, and only the evening's super-special in Cordoba was maintained!
Once the rally did get underway in earnest, however, the drivers hit the ground running on the stages to the north of Villa Carlos Paz near La Cumbre. Sebastien Loeb set the pace, profiting from the mostly damp and occasionally very wet conditions to claim five stages from a possible five on Saturday morning. Ford/BFGoodrich's Marcus Gronholm (2nd overall, 15 seconds behind the Frenchman) was in a pessimistic mood as crews returned to the service park and was left to ponder on how he could reverse the trend.
The loop of faster, wider stages to the south near Santa Rosa de Calamuchita gave the Finn some cause for hope. The morning's rain had compacted the sandy roads and soft compound BFGoodrich tyres were the obvious choice. For Marcus Gronholm, the conditions were reminiscent of his home event and he kicked off the afternoon in encouraging style by claiming SS15 (Santa Rosa-San Agustin), but Loeb responded with fastest times on SS16 and 17 to extend his lead to just under 20s by the end of the day.
Despite being lengthened with the addition of a 23km stage, Sunday's action failed to change the picture at the sharp end of the leaderboard and Loeb concluded the event with a score of 10 fastest times from a possible 16 to clinch his third Rally Argentina win in as many years, equalling the record held by Tommi Makinen.
Mikko Hirvonen (Ford/BFGoodrich) was on top form in the stadium-based super-specials but failed to follow up his early successes when the event moved into the sierra and he was forced to settle for 3rd place overall, more than 2 minutes adrift of the winner. And once again, his main challenger for the third step of the podium, Petter Solberg (Subaru/BFGoodrich), was hit by problems. The Norwegian figured in 3rd spot after Saturday's La Cumbre loop but his engine then gave up the ghost during the afternoon.
Leg 2's southern loop proved difficult too for Dani Sordo (Citroen/BFGoodrich) who fell back from 4th to 8th after suffering from a hydraulic problem. He recovered from his disappointment, however, to put in a strong run on the last day which saw him set fastest times on both attempts at the legendary El Condor stage which finally promoted him to 6th at the flag, behind Ford Focus/BFGoodrich runners Jari-Matti Latvala (4th) and Henning Solberg (5th). Chris Atkinson (Subaru/BFGoodrich) and Manfred Stohl (Citroen/BFGoodrich) also picked up points, while the Drivers' standings are this evening topped by Sebastien Loeb and the Manufacturers' table by Ford.
(*) Marcus Gronholm finished 2nd overall in Portugal before being penalised for a technical infringement.