WRC

Rally Argentina: Leg one summary

Championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) spun and stalled his car's engine on this morning's opening stage. However, the Frenchman inherited the lead when Gronholm retired and ended the leg 19.8sec ahead of Petter Solberg (Subaru), having set...

Championship leader Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) spun and stalled his car's engine on this morning's opening stage. However, the Frenchman inherited the lead when Gronholm retired and ended the leg 19.8sec ahead of Petter Solberg (Subaru), having set four fastest times. The Norwegian took the lead on this morning's opening stage but then hit a gate post early in stage four which broke co-driver Phil Mills' window. They also incurred a 10 second penalty for arriving late at a time control when their car fell off its jack while they were changing tyres before stage nine. Gigi Galli (Peugeot) lies third after a troublefree day on only his second rally in the car. Manfred Stohl (Peugeot) celebrated his 100th WRC start with fastest time on the final stage to hold fourth ahead of team-mate Henning Solberg, who survived tyre troubles, a broken differential and a small off this morning. Another major retirement was Xavi Pons (Citroen) who stopped with an oil leak after hitting a rock early in stage six and his car briefly caught fire. He will restart tomorrow.

Kronos Total Citroen

At the end of a gruelling first leg, which comprised almost half the competitive distance of the rally, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC returned to the Feriar Complex in Cordoba leading the event. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti were sixth overnight, having predictably climbed a steep learning curve. Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio were forced into retirement halfway through the day following a small 'off'. They will re-start tomorrow under the super rally regulations. Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: " On the last stage of the day, I really thought for a moment that I was going to lose my lead. The first few kilometres were really sandy : there was no grip and I made a series of mistakes. I hit the side of the road about three times and I nearly spun twice. I really had to calm things down then. It's on stretches of road like that where you realise how much work the active differentials used to do. Tomorrow is going to be almost as long as today and the stages are going to be just as varied. We're going to have a lot of fun, although our plan is still to attack. Marcus is no longer in the running, but there's always Petter. "

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: 'Cabalango/Carlos Paz' (SS6) was an unlucky one for Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio. The Spaniards slid wide on a corner and damaged the left-rear wheel. They tried to drive slowly to the end of the stage, but the impact had consequences for the transmission and fuel system - causing a small fire that was rapidly extinguished by the crew. Xevi and Carlos will re-start tomorrow with a 25-minute penalty (five per stage missed) under the super rally regulations.

OMV-Peugeot Norway

News unavailable at time of going to press.

BP-Ford

BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen led Rally Argentina for much of today's opening leg until problems halted their Focus RS World Rally Car this afternoon. The Finns won two speed tests to build an advantage on this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship but their hopes of a third win of the season were dashed. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen were third in a similar Focus RS when engine troubles brought their day to a premature end.

Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "About 8km after the start of the stage I came into a corner and the car stalled. I restarted the engine but could not select any gears. I locked the differentials and covered another 300 metres but then we came to another tight corner and that was it. I don't know what the problem was but obviously I'm really disappointed to retire when things were going so well,"

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "About 1km after the finish, on the liaison section, the engine dropped onto three cylinders. We stopped to change the spark plugs but that didn't cure the problem. We continued a little further and stopped again to change the electronic control unit. That didn't work either. So with two stages left before service, we decided to stop so that we didn't damage the engine further and the team could examine it to see if we can start tomorrow under SupeRally."

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford

The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team ended the first leg of Rally Argentina with both cars inside the overall top ten despite the tough and gruelling nature of the dusty rock strewn stages around Cordoba in central Argentina, with 19 year-old British driver Matthew Wilson 37 seconds ahead of team-mate and local favourite, Luis Perez Companc.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "I think we had four punctures this morning. It was the second stage which really hurt us. Near the start there was a rock just over a crest. That gave us the first puncture, but the tyre stayed up. Then, half way through the stage, there was a massive rock in the line and I just hit it. That punctured the front and the rear so we had to swap things around. A tyre then went down on the road section, so we had to put a flat one back on, so on the last stage this morning with four punctures and no spare we were very careful. We were lucky with the jump, jeez it was close. We had 'crest, jump, right' but we took off and landed with half the car off the road and there was a massive rock sticking out of the grass and it hit the sill. We were lucky. The last stage of the day was very difficult, it felt like we had a broken anti roll bar but it just goes to show what you can do if you try and be neat and tidy, it certainly worked for us. Today was a real challenge, it's the longest day in rallying I've ever done, it feels like I've driven to the moon and back. It's a real achievement to be here."

Luis Perez Companc/ J-M Volta: "The stages are very rough. The third stage was very twisty, with a lot of rocks, but it was no problem we just had to take it slowly and take care. Eight stages today and the car is in one piece, it's as strong as a tank. There's a lot of people cheering me on, and I'm grateful to them because it is good to see them, I'm very happy. The stadium start was incredible, there was a lot of people and it made it nervous for me. We wanted to finish the Leg today and as we've finished the leg we're in a good position. It's incredible, the people are everywhere, I have to give them a spectacle."

555 Subaru

Petter Solberg holds second place overall at the end of Leg one of Rally Argentina. Solberg was fastest on three of the Leg's nine stages and will start tomorrow's second day of competition less than 20 seconds behind rally leader Sebastien Loeb. On only his second Rally Argentina, Chris Atkinson lies in seventh place.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "It's been a very interesting day, a lot has happened to us, but it's good fun fighting at the top and winning stages, that's where we belong. The gap between me and Sebastien is less than 20 seconds now - of course it's hard not to imagine where I could have been without losing time here and there today, but that's the game and we have two days still to come. I'm feeling very good about things and am really looking forward to tomorrow."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "It's been a tough day. We started out well and set a couple of top three times, but struggled this afternoon. The surface was very rutted and the handling of the car has seemed inconsistent - especially on the last stage - because of this we've had to be quite cautious and have lost time. But we'll keep pushing as hard as we can and hopefully move up some places."

-www.rallye-newsletter.com/

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Timo Rautiainen , Manfred Stohl , Daniel Elena , Mikko Hirvonen , Marc Marti , Gianluigi Galli , Jarmo Lehtinen , Henning Solberg , Xavier Pons , Matthew Wilson , Michael Orr , Chris Atkinson
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport