Kronos Citroen After a controlled and entirely trouble-free day aboard their Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena emerged from the final stage of leg two -- Santa Rosa de Calamuchita/San Agustin (SS18) -- in the ...
After a controlled and entirely trouble-free day aboard their Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena emerged from the final stage of leg two -- Santa Rosa de Calamuchita/San Agustin (SS18) -- in the lead.
Dani Sordo and Marc Marti were equally flawless throughout a tricky second leg to maintain sixth. Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio, competing under the super rally regulations, had the satisfaction of winning Ascochinga/La Cumbre (SS13). It was the Spaniard's first ever fastest time on the World Rally Championship. Today's competitive action, comprising 150 kilometres of stages, was almost as long as yesterday's opening leg.
The route was a tricky proposition, taking in the well-known stages of the Calamuchita valley that are simultaneously rapid yet bumpy. Road conditions were made even more difficult by the morning's weather. Heavy rain had fallen in the Punilla valley, which contained the first four stages, and two of them even got underway in thick fog.
The Kronos team, ably backed up by BFGoodrich's engineers, had fortunately sent out its three Xsaras on soft tyres -- which proved to be a judicious choice. Sebastien Loeb started the day with 20 seconds in hand over his nearest rival, Petter Solberg. The reigning World Champion made fast but careful progress through the mud and mist to end up with a lead of nearly a minute after Cabalango/Carlos Paz (SS14), just before midday service. On the rollercoaster ride of the afternoon stages, Seb sensibly maintained his advantage.
Sebastien Loeb: The Citroen driver currently leads by 43 seconds heading into tomorrow's 41 competitive kilometres. "It wasn't an easy day, what with all the jumps and high-speed water splashes" he said. "I've managed to build up a bit of lead and my aim is to keep it throughout tomorrow's short leg. There's a sting in the tail of this rally though : two very rough and narrow stages, where above all I've got to steer clear of trouble."
Xevi Pons: First on the road today was Xevi Pons, disappointed yesterday after the 'off' that forced him to retire from the opening leg. He said: "This morning's stages in the damp were not bad at all. I got my confidence back in La Falda (SS11). In La Cumbre -- which we didn't get the chance to drive yesterday -- I was nonetheless second-fastest. The on the following stage I was quickest. To manage that today was fantastic : nothing could have done more for my confidence. So that was good. The afternoon was more difficult though. The weather stayed dry, which meant that I was sweeping all the loose gravel. This will be the case again tomorrow, but I'm delighted to be driving again in front of such an enthusiastic Argentine public."
Dani Sordo: Had already said that Argentina would be a case of back to school again, so the asphalt high-flyer duly became a diligent student of gravel. Dani reported: "Today's conditions were really difficult for somebody like me who is new to gravel, with mud, slippery stages and fog in the morning. But I really liked the fast stages in the afternoon with all those high-speed jumps. I spun on my first run through 'Santa Rosa', but I felt a bit more comfortable on the second run. I've still got a lot to learn though, especially on Mina Clavero and El Condor tomorrow."
Petter Solberg again demonstrated the Impreza WRC2006's competitive pace on gravel. The Norwegian set two fastest stage times to consolidate his second place overall. With 41km remaining on Sunday's final day of competition, Petter is 43secs behind event leader Sebastien Loeb. Chris Atkinson drove consistently throughout the Leg and moved up one place to sixth overall. Atkinson later dropped back to seventh position when Stewards' applied a one minute penalty for speeding in the service area.
SWRT sporting director, Luis Moya Of course I'm a little disappointed because we came here for the victory and it now looks like that target will be difficult to achieve. But, on the other hand, we should be pleased with the performance of our cars today. Mechanically, both have been very reliable ever since we started the rally. Petter has set some very good times, as well as the stage wins on SS16 and SS17 and Chris has also improved his pace.
Petter Solberg: In fact it's been quite a good day, even though it didn't get off to a great start. First we made a bad tyre choice and that cost us a lot of time, and then I reckon we lost another six or seven seconds when the gear lever broke. But this afternoon was actually good and overall I'm pretty happy - we won two stages and our pace is better than the people behind. It was nice to share the stage win with Henning too - I don't think two brothers have ever done that before - I heard my mother and father were very happy! Tomorrow the stages are difficult, I know there are lot of bad rocks and anything can happen. The rally isn't over yet -- we all have to do those stages first.
Chris Atkinson: Driving 100km back to service on three tyres was quite a dramatic way to end the day, but on the whole it's been okay. We ran at a consistent pace, moved up a place on the leader board and have done the best we can. I haven't been able to get the car set up exactly as I'd have liked but I've adapted my driving to suit and hope to be able to get a points finish tomorrow - that's the plan.
OMV Peugeot Norway
Even though the OMV Team chose the wrong tyres on the recommendation of the tyre manufacturer they still were able to defend their top positions four and five. They only exchanged positions within the OMV Team so that Henning Solberg (Nor) finished leg two in fourth place. But Manfred Stohl (Aut) is only 3,7 seconds behind. Usually a premiere at an event of the FIA World Rally Championship isn't a thing to take lightly. But Henning Solberg didn't show fear prior to his first start in Argentina. He knew that the characteristics of the special stages would suit him. Therefore, after two days and fourth intermediate place, the Norwegian OMV driver isn't really surprised by the intermediate result but rather happy.
"Except for some minor problems everything went great so far. Which is, of course, also due to the background of a perfectly prepared car by Bozian Racing. And the Peugeot 307 WRC has always performed very well here in Argentina. I'll do my all to defend this place."
Saturday morning turned Manfred Stohl into a blade runner. Due to the wrong choice of tyres the Peugeot 307 WRC became nearly unsteerable on the muddy surface. Almost inevitable consequence were two spins which cost Stohl a lot of time, fourth place and the chance for the podium. For after the first SS of the day the 33-year-old OMV driver had been only four seconds behind Gigi Galli (Ita/Peugeot 307 WRC) in third place. In the afternoon things went better and Stohl caught up until he was only 3,7 seconds behind OMV Teammate Henning Solberg.
"It's going to be a hot fight on Sunday. I'll definitely do my best to get past Henning. And who can say what will happen at the top? The two special stages, El Condor and Mina Clavero are among the toughest in the rally WRC. My experience should do me some good there."
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team
The team provided the dice of the day for the multitudes of fans on the stages around the central Argentinean town of Cordoba as team-mates Matthew Wilson and Luis Perez Companc battled for eighth spot in the overall standings in the sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Argentina.
19 year-old Matthew Wilson had the early advantage from the first leg of running on Friday and started the day 37 seconds ahead of Companc, but Saturday morning provided a surprise for the young British rally driver as the first stages of the day were enveloped by a thick fog compounding an already difficult job on the treacherous rock-rich route.
Wilson relied on the notes read by co-driver Michael Orr and the duo fought their way to the midday service stop after the morning's 70km of competitive distance. It was not just the fog which presented a challenge either. A corner which had already claimed the tyres of two-time WRC champion and fellow M-Sport run Ford driver Marcos Gronholm also caught out Wilson's Ford Focus RS WRC 05 and the car slid wide and on to the large rocks lining the route. The car sustained panel damage, although not to a serious degree, but the incident, allied the superior experience of Companc, meant the gap between the two was down to 4.9secs as they left the service park for the second loop.
The fast and flowing afternoon route, 80km over four stages, saw Companc close in and pass Wilson. Despite Companc's greater experience in his home event, Wilson didn't make life easy for the Argentinean, although the Brit was careful not to become too preoccupied with the position and risk pushing too hard. By the end of SS16 the gap was down to just half a second and on the next stage Companc had passed his younger team-mate for eighth and the championship point it brings with it.
Saturday ended with Wilson just 10.9secs behind Companc with none other than Marcus Gronholm 4mins 43secs next down the order, the Finn running with 15 minutes of penalties for not completing Friday's stages.
The final day of Rally Argentina sees 41km over four stages, with the El Condor stage challenging competitors in the morning before two Super Specials in front of an expected crowd of over 40,000 in the Estadio Cordoba.
Matthew Wilson: "The stages we did this afternoon were classic stages that have been in the Argentinean championship and the experience of Luis showed there. He didn't take a massive chunk on any one stage, but he did enough to get ahead of us and he picked up his pace to do that. On Sunday if the notes work right and we're driving nice and neat and tidy we should be alright but today was just so fast. You've got to have the commitment over the blind crests and braking into the slow stuff. I'm reasonably happy, we had just a few stupid mistakes in the fog this morning. We had an overshoot which probably cost us the most time then in the last stage today the grip was a lot better but I didn't exploit that enough. We're here, still in the rally, and that's the main thing and we're fit for tomorrow."
Luis Perez Companc: "It's been a very good day, a very good leg. I'm very happy that I could finally get to the eighth position and get some points. It was very nice having a good fight with Matthew. I was pushing very hard in the four stages this afternoon, I thought I would make a bigger difference from Matthew but he also was pushing hard so the difference between us was very small, but finally I got past him. Tomorrow we hope to keep the place and keep the car in one piece to the end of the rally."
Remaining Event Timetable:
The third and final Leg will comprise four stages and 41.30 competitive kilometres. Crews will head west for the classic Mina Clavero -- Giulio Cesare and El Condor tests with their spectacular lunar-like landscape before returning to Cordoba for a further two runs through the Super Especial in the football stadium. The podium finish is scheduled for 1330hrs inside the same arena.
The forecast for Mina Clavero for leg three is (believe it or not) for abundant sunshine, a high around 65F, with winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph.