WRC

Rally Argentina: Leg one summary

Following Thursday's visit to the Carlos Paz Super Special Stage, all of the original 69 starters left parc ferme at 0720hrs today to start the second section of Leg one. Leg 1 comprised 168.28 competitive kilometres and twelve stages (six of...

Following Thursday's visit to the Carlos Paz Super Special Stage, all of the original 69 starters left parc ferme at 0720hrs today to start the second section of Leg one. Leg 1 comprised 168.28 competitive kilometres and twelve stages (six of which were repeated). With the exception of the Super Special, stages were based in the mountains to the north of the Carlos Paz service park.

Weather conditions remained dry and bright all day. The temperature in the service area started at 4º Celsius and peaked at 16º Celsius. The variable road surfaces of Leg 1 were a combination of hard packed earth, smooth gravel with some deep, sandy sections.

Petter Solberg (Subaru) led last night and extended his advantage this morning. But on stage five he entered a watersplash too quickly, buckling the bonnet and squashing his engine's air intake pipe. The incident cost 30 seconds and he slid to fourth. On stage nine the same watersplash brought him to a halt again, this time for more than seven minutes. Although Solberg completed the test, an engine fire stopped the car at the finish and he retired. Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) moved ahead after Solberg's initial problems but a charging Carlos Sainz (Citroen) took the lead on stage eight. The Finn fought back to regain top spot on the next stage and they ended the day just 8.4sec apart. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) suffered from an alternator problem during the opening loop but lies third. Amazingly Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) stopped at the same watersplash as team-mate Solberg on both occasions. He lost 50sec in the morning, when water flooded into the engine through the air intake pipe, and almost five minutes this afternoon when the same happened. He is sixth. Harri Rovanpera (Peugeot) held fifth after the morning loop but a broken hydraulic pump in his car's axle cost almost nine minutes and he slipped to eighth. Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) had to drive without fourth or fifth gears for most of the afternoon and that, combined with a broken turbo, cost almost 10 minutes. He is 16th.

Saturday 17 July starts at 0617hrs, when cars leave parc ferme in Carlos Paz ready to contest nine more stages (two of which are repeated) and a further 129.39 competitive kilometres. The first stage, the 20.43km test from Amboy, starts at 0848hrs, while the final stage, another circuit of the Super Special, starts at 1910hrs. Following the introduction of the re-start system earlier this year, all cars that retired in Leg one are allowed to re-start on tomorrow's Leg. However, such drivers will not be eligible to score points in either the WRC Drivers' or Manufacturers' Championships.

Peugeot

Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm has finished first on the opening leg of the Rally Argentina, round eight of the World Rally Championship. His team mate Harri Rovanpera ends the opening day in eighth.

Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "I'm generally happy with the way things have gone, although I haven't been able to relax for one moment. Things certainly aren't comfortable, and anything could still happen. I've been pushing reasonably hard without going crazy, and as this is fast enough to keep the lead my plan is to carry on like this. In the afternoon the stages were a lot cleaner and less slippery than they were in the morning, although it was quite rough with several deep ruts. I've got no complaints about the car though: the team has done an excellent job."

Harri Rovanpera / Risto Pietilainen: Harri was also unhappy with his tyre choice over the opening loop of stages, but a worse problem awaited him in the afternoon. His power steering pump failed on stage seven: the first of a long loop of four stages. Harri had to wrestle his 307 back to service over more than 70 agonising kilometres, and he dropped down to eighth overall. "These problems always seem to happen to me when there are several stages left before service!" he said. "The steering suddenly failed as I was turning into a corner and from then I knew it was going to be very hard work. I tried to fix the problem on the road section, but it was too complicated. Now that the car is fine again we can push hard tomorrow. I've been encouraged by our pace today when things were going well, so I am sure we can score some points by the end of the rally."

Citroen

At the end of the first day, Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti, in second place, 8.4 seconds behind, and Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, third at 33.6 seconds, are in an ideal position to hunt down the leader, Finnish driver Marcus Gronholm, during tomorrow's leg.

Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "At the end of the first loop, I thought I had finished with the job of cleaning the road. Having won two stages, I was doing quite well. But, to my surprise, the second time round was even more penalizing than the first. The sandy parts had been churned up and thousands of spectators had covered up the tracks. Instead of my times improving as they normally do on the second time through, my time in three out of the four stages was slower. In 'Valle Hermoso', I lost nearly a second per kilometre ! However, I must say that my position this evening is not too bad; my Xsara, like in Turkey, is docile, precise and easy to drive, and there are over two hundred competitive kilometres to go. There is still plenty of time to improve."

Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: "The car was perfect. I just asked for an adjustment to be made to the handbrake after the first loop," explained a delighted Carlos during the evening's service. "My tyres suffered a bit in the afternoon's loop : I think I had asked for them to be cut too much. Really, it was a very good day : interesting, even amusing because of the fight with Marcus Gronholm. This is all very positive for me, of course, but it is also good for the team. We have to continue to push, especially as Sebastien is not far behind, considering he lost quite a lot of time by being first on the road. So tomorrow, it will be 'al fondo'--"

Subaru

After an incident filled day in the Sierras of Cordoba, 23-year-old Mikko Hirvonen holds overnight sixth place on Rally Argentina tonight after a determined performance at the wheel of his Impreza WRC2004. The young Finn heads the Subaru challenge after the retirement earlier in the day of his team mate, and current World Champion, Petter Solberg. Bringing to an end his impressive record of 11 consecutive WRC finishes, Solberg recorded three fastest stage times before retiring from fourth place overall with mechanical problems.

Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: " don't yet know what happened, I'm obviously disappointed, but we're just going to have to work even harder from now on. I've done many rallies in my life and tackled many different water splashes, however this has happened three times now and together we're going to have to find the best way of tacking them. Looking at the bigger picture it's important to remember that there are still eight rallies and 80 points to go and up to this point we had finished 11 rallies in a row with seven podiums and five wins. It's tough, but you have to accept that these things happen to everyone some time. I'd like to start again tomorrow if we can get the car returned and fixed in time, as I want to get back out there and tackle the rest of the stages. I want to win here next time."

Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: "It's been a tough day and I'm quite glad to be back in service! We completely stopped for three minutes at the water splash (on SS9) and after that I'm not sure if we had some engine problems. There have been some positive moments though; we set a good time on the long stage (SS8) and again on the last one (SS10). For tomorrow we'll be going flat out and trying to do some good times, hoping to catch those in front."

Ford

Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot ended today's tough opening day of the Rally Argentina in fourth. The Belgians steered clear of serious problems in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car on a day when gravel tracks winding across the vast Argentine pampas sidelined more than a third of the entry. Team-mates Markko Martin and Michael Park escaped serious injury after a violent accident this morning which destroyed their Focus RS. Both were taken to hospital for precautionary tests after the 170kph, sixth gear accident in which their car rolled end over end.

Markko Martin / Michael Park: Martin and Park were lying second in their Castrol-branded Focus RS when they crashed 8km after the start of the fifth stage, the 16.76km Villa Giardino - La Falda. Their car rolled several times, coming to rest on its roof.

Martin was flown to hospital in Cosquin by air ambulance after complaining of blurred vision and feeling dizzy. He was then transferred to hospital in Cordoba where he underwent a scan and X-rays to his head, neck and chest. Doctors kept him under observation after Martin continued to suffer double vision before releasing him this evening. However, he must return for further tests at 09.00 tomorrow. Park, who has still not fully recovered from a viral infection earlier in the week, was badly shaken and bruised. He was flown by helicopter back to the rally base in Villa Carlos Paz. He was taken to the medical centre there and then onto hospital in Cordoba. He underwent X-rays to his head, neck and chest before being given the all-clear and released.

"The jump came at the end of a long straight," explained Park. "We took a slightly different line and on landing the car's differential guard hit a rock. The impact kicked the car into the air and it landed on its nose before rolling end over end down the road. The first impact took much of the speed out of the accident so the car didn't roll too many times. Markko's door was ripped open so we both climbed out that side and I went back down the road to warn following cars.

"It's the biggest accident I've had and I don't want another like it. The time and effort that has gone into constructing the safety cell around the cockpit on the Focus has been huge and I'm so thankful that's the case," he added. Data showed the accident happened at 170kph with an impact force of 10G.

Ford BP Rallye Sport team director Malcolm Wilson said: "The data shows this was a very violent accident indeed. The incident occurred on a fast part of the stage but thankfully the strength of the Ford Focus RS World Rally Car prevented serious injury to either Markko or Michael. It is too early to say how this will affect the team's plans for the next few weeks."

Francios Duval / Stefan Prevot: Despite bending his car's rear suspension link during the afternoon, Duval climbed to fourth as many of the top drivers encountered troubles. "After the suspension damage, the balance wasn't good, especially on the high speed sections where the car felt unstable. It's not been an enjoyable day for me but I'm in fourth place and that is a good position after the opening leg. The car hasn't felt perfect but I think we can solve that tonight and I'm looking forward to driving the car tomorrow when the handling should be better. "I'm going to take it easy tomorrow. There are large time gaps in front and behind me and it's important to finish in the points for Ford so I won't take any risks. The morning stages are all new to me so that's another reason for being cautious and not brave," added Duval.

Mitsubishi

At the end of the opening leg of Rally Argentina, the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports crew of Kristian Sohlberg and Kaj Lindstrom hold fifth position in the lead Lancer WRC04. Team-mates Gilles and Herve Panizzi held eighth position this morning however their charge was slowed with gearbox and turbo problems during this afternoon's repeated stages.

Gilles Panizzi / Herve Panizzi: "This morning was not so bad, even though the suspension settings were not quite right for the conditions", said Gilles. "As a result, the traction was not so good and the gear selection also became less smooth. It's impossible to know if the modifications we made for this afternoon were right, as we lost fourth and fifth gears in stage eight, and then the turbo in the following stage".

Kristian Sohlberg / Kaj Lindstrom: "I wasn't really getting to grips with the suspension set-up this morning but the changes we made to the rear in the middle of the day improved the balance of the whole car", said Kristian. "We have yet to find the right compromise though, as either traction or handling is sacrificed depending on the direction we take with the settings. In some places this afternoon the roads were pretty nasty with big ruts and you had to be careful not to roll, but our aim is to maintain this pace and not push to the limit, otherwise there is always a risk of breaking something. At the moment I'm happy with the way things are going".

Weather Forecast
Cloudy conditions and temperatures in the low teens are expected for the event.

-fia/wrc-

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team