Hirvonen fires Ford into top six as Argentina gets tough again BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen staged a superb recovery to power back up the Rally Argentina leaderboard today. During a second...
Hirvonen fires Ford into top six as Argentina gets tough again
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen staged a superb recovery to power back up the Rally Argentina leaderboard today. During a second gruelling day of competition, which again proved too much for many rivals, the Finns kept cool to stay out of trouble and battle back from an overnight 25th to hold sixth position in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car.
Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila held eighth in their Focus RS until a heavy impact with a rock damaged their car's starter motor and the Finns were unable to make repairs in the time allowed. Their car was later restored to full health and 22-year-old Latvala will return for tomorrow's final day under SupeRally regulations.
After yesterday's tough opening to this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, today's route was equally demanding. Two identical loops of four sandy speed tests in the Calamuchita valley, south of Carlos Paz, were followed by a second pass over the short special stage at Cordoba's soccer stadium. Competitors returned to Carlos Paz after 154.38km of competition. In contrast to yesterday, the day was rain-free but the roads remained muddy and slippery after yesterday's downpours.
Hirvonen, who led yesterday before broken suspension sidelined him for the afternoon, returned this morning with a healthy Focus RS after sterling repair work from the BP Ford Abu Dhabi mechanics. The Finns were consistently fast on the morning loop and returned to service having climbed back into the manufacturers' points in 17th.
The afternoon was even better for 27-year-old Hirvonen as the roads, now rough and rocky after the morning pass, took their toll on man and machine. One second fastest time and three third quickest performances enabled him to storm up to sixth and fifth in the manufacturers' points standings.
"I didn't think I could make up so many positions," he admitted. "It was hard to find motivation this morning looking at our position but I was quite excited this afternoon when cars started to fall by the wayside. Tomorrow the plan is to drive flat out because anything can happen ahead and I could score a lot more points here than I thought was possible last night. I don't want to let Loeb leave here with too many more points than us. It was incredibly rough and the car took some massive hits underneath this afternoon, but the Focus is strong and we were OK, although the impacts cracked the windscreen and the drivers' side window."
Latvala, hoping to regain more positions after yesterday morning's roll, was fifth through the opening test but a heavy impact meant his car refused to start for the following stage. When the car was finally started Latvala had exceeded the time limit. Although he completed the remaining tests, he faced exclusion from the rest of the day and was therefore withdrawn on his return to the service park.
"On the first stage we drove down a long fast straight with some jumps and dips," said Latvala. "In one compression, just before a crest, there was a rock which had become exposed in the middle of the road and it struck the sump guard beneath the car. At the finish we opened the bonnet to check everything was OK before driving to the next stage.
"We stopped before the start to wait for our turn, but when I tried to start the engine nothing happened. We tried to 'bump start' it to release the starter motor but it was no good. The sump guard must have impacted with the starter motor. When we realised we had gone beyond the time limit, spectators helped push start it and we drove the stage. I've made mistakes here but I've also had no luck. I hope we have some tomorrow," he added.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson reflected on another difficult day. "Mikko's car ran perfectly and he did a great job," he said. "Jari-Matti's car took a big hit on the sump guard and he didn't realise the damage. He completed all the stages this morning which is good experience for the future and he will return tomorrow for more experience and perhaps gain some points," he said.
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Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) maintained his lead after winning three stages, the Frenchman still 80sec clear. Team-mates Chris Atkinson and Petter Solberg (both Subaru) fought over second. Atkinson was overhauled by Solberg on the opening stage but kept the gap small until Solberg pulled away this afternoon to end 48.9sec ahead. Dani Sordo (Citroen) is fourth, ahead of privateer Conrad Rautenbach (Citroen). Many leading drivers failed to last the day. Stobart's Gigi Galli (Ford), in fourth, damaged his exhaust on the morning's final stage and resulting electrical problems could not be repaired in time at service. Team-mate Matthew Wilson (Ford) was sixth when a broken track control arm sidelined him. Third squad member, Henning Solberg, completed the first loop to increase his experience after losing time yesterday before withdrawing at the midday service. Toni Gardemeister (Suzuki) drove all four morning tests with only rear-wheel drive after a front driveshaft broke and was later sidelined with no hydraulic pressure. Team-mate Per-Gunnar Andersson stopped with broken suspension.
The final day is the shortest of the rally with just 42.67km of competition but is no easier. The narrow and rocky Giulio Cesare and El Condor tests, high in the lunar-like landscape of the Traslasierra mountains to the south-west of Carlos Paz, are two of the toughest in the championship. The survivors will then head to Cordoba's soccer stadium as two cars at a time race around a revised route from the previous two days. After leaving Carlos Paz at 06.55, drivers will reach the finish in the town at 13.10.