Weather: Overcast skies and damp roads after overnight rain. Stages dried out gradually during the day. On the stages, temperatures ranged between 2C in the morning and 9C in the afternoon. Petter Solberg holds second place on Rally Argentina ...
Weather: Overcast skies and damp roads after overnight rain. Stages dried out gradually during the day. On the stages, temperatures ranged between 2C in the morning and 9C in the afternoon.
Petter Solberg holds second place on Rally Argentina tonight after a furious day of competition on the gravel roads of the Cordobese Sierras. Solberg's Subaru Impreza WRC2005 ran faultlessly all day and enabled the Norwegian to set the fastest time on two of the Leg's special stages, and smash the previous stage record time on the Carlos Paz - Cabalango test. Subaru's new signing for 2005, Chris Atkinson had a successful and trouble-free day on his first-ever attempt at the Rally Argentina. Making encouraging progress throughout the ten stages, Chris ended the Leg by setting the seventh-fastest time on the final stage and beating several works-team drivers with far more experience. Chris will start tomorrow in ninth place overall.
SS1 / SS2: 1905hrs Super Especial Complejo Pro-Racing (3.02km)
Rally Argentina kicked off in impressive style on Thursday night with two circuits of the Superspecial stage at the Pro-Racing motorsport complex in Carlos Paz. A crowd of 40,000 spectators flocked to the venue and took up viewing positions on the banked terraces around the head-to-head 3.02km gravel stage. With headlights blazing, the 72-car field tackled the dusty road in pairs and negotiated hairpin bends, wide, sweeping sections and high-speed straights. Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm set the fastest time on the first pass (SS1) to move into an early event lead, but a lightning time from Subaru's Petter Solberg on the second loop (SS2) moved him ahead of Gronholm and into the overnight lead of the rally. The soft ground quickly became rutted in the slower corners, and that disadvantaged many of the competitors, like Chris Atkinson, who were running further down the order. None of the leading competitors suffered any mechanical problems and, as a firework display lit up the sky, crews left their cars in the overnight park ferme ready for the serious stage action that would start on Friday morning. Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 2:09.3 / Solberg (Subaru) 2:09.1
SS3: 0830hrs Carlos Paz - Cabalanga 1 (14.51km)
Cars re-started Leg one on Friday morning in gloomy and damp conditions after 5mm of rain fell overnight. The service area temperature of 8ºC was a lot cooler than it had been on the three previous days and, during the 10-minute morning service, crews prepared for conditions that would be very different from the dry and dusty ones they had encountered on the pre-event recce. After the Superspecial the previous evening, the first truly representative stage of the rally was based just 12km from the service area at Carlos Paz, on the opposite side of the San Roque Lake the town is based around. Holding a slender overnight lead of 1.2sec, Petter Solberg was quickest, breaking the stage record previously set by Carlos Sainz by more than 11 seconds, and extending his leading margin to 4.7sec ahead of Sebastien Loeb who was second-fastest and Marcus Gronholm who was third. A fine start from Chris Atkinson saw him seventh-fastest on his first ever 'proper' Rally Argentina stage. Fastest Stage Time: Solberg (Subaru) 9:51.7
SS4: 0953hrs La Cumbre - Agua de Oro 2 (21.18km)
From the finish line of SS3, crews drove 60kms north to the town of La Cumbre, and directly to the start of the second stage of the day. Beginning with a steep climb along a narrow hill track lined with rocks and boulders, the stage was very twisty and one of the slowest of the rally. In common with most of the Argentine stages, however, the route also included several high-speed sections and deceptive corners to catch out the unwary. Sebastien Loeb recorded the quickest time, with Petter Solberg his closest rival 2.1sec back and Gronholm a further 5.2sec adrift in third. Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 17:48.8
SS5: 1043hrs Ascochinga - La Cumbre 1 (28.74km)
The longest stage of the day, and a completely different character from the first two, SS5 featured a long climb with a wider road surface that made it much faster. Loeb was quickest, and snatched the rally lead Petter had held since SS2. Solberg was second-fastest, to keep within striking distance of his championship rival, and after the stage just 1.2sec separated the pair on the leaderboard. Gronholm set the third-fastest time. Mitsubishi's Gigi Galli became the first driver to retire from the Leg after multiple problems during the test. The Italian stopped initially to make repairs to his Lancer's front-right suspension arm, but although he got underway again, his car was later brought to a complete halt with a broken transmission. Skoda's Jani Passonen was another driver to retire from the Leg on SS5. The Finn was sidelined after an incident left his Fabia WRC with damaged front-left suspension. Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 18:15.3
SS6: 1146hrs Villa Giardino - La Falda 1 (15.50km)
On roads that were now only damp, rather than wet following the overnight rain, crews tackled the final stage of the morning's group. Featuring a difficult variety of slow, twisty sections, watersplashes, jumps, blind crests and flat-out sixth-gear straights, the test from Villa Giardino gave crews little opportunity to get into a comfortable driving rhythm. The fastest times went to the same trio of Loeb, Solberg and Gronholm respectively, who had formed a breakaway group at the head of the field. Just 21 seconds separated the top-three drivers, while Toni Gardemeister, in fourth, was 48sec behind. After the finish line crews drove a 46km road section back to the rally base at Carlos Paz for a 20-minute service halt. Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 10:50.8
SS7: 1444hrs La Cumbre - Agua de Oro 2 (21.18km)
Fresh from the service area, crews headed back to the hills to repeat the three northernmost stages of the rally in the Sierras Grandes near La Cumbre. In a temperature of 6ºC and under grey skies, Marcus Gronholm was the pacesetter through the 21km section to edge closer to Petter Solberg's second place. Loeb was second-quickest, with Petter Solberg third. Competing in his 100th WRC rally, Mitsubishi's Harri Rovanpera was fourth-fastest and moved ahead of Markko Martin into fifth place overall. Fastest Stage Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 17:33.2
SS8: 1534hrs Ascochinga - La Cumbre 1 (28.74km)
The repeated stage from Ascochinga brought no upsets to the rally leaders. Loeb, Gronholm and Solberg continued their high-speed battle through the longest stage of the rally, with Loeb coming out on top on this occasion - despite having to use his car to nudge a cow out of the road along the way. After Jani Passonen's retirement earlier in the day, there was more disappointment for the Skoda team when Armin Schwarz lost around five minutes with a broken damper on the team's remaining Fabia. The German dropped from 15th to 17th place, with the likelihood of further time loss during the two remaining stages. Chris Atkinson was judged to have jumped the start light, and was given a 10-second penalty. Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 17:57.7
SS9: 1637hrs Villa Giardino - La Falda 2 (15.50km)
The penultimate stage of the Leg and the last of the three repeated stages was the setting for another win for Loeb with Gronholm and Solberg close behind. The relentless pace of the leading trio meant they had pulled so far ahead of the rest of the field that fourth placed Toni Gardemeister trailed Marcus Gronholm by 1min 12sec. Still suffering with a broken damper, Armin Schwarz lost more time and dropped to 20th overall. Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 10:53.3
SS10: 1709hrs Valle Hermoso - Casa Grande 1 (10.95km)
On the first pass through the high-speed stage at Valle Hermoso, Loeb was fastest once again to collect his sixth win of the day's eight tests. Loeb will start tomorrow's second Leg with a lead margin of 31sec over Petter Solberg who holds second after another top-three time. Citroen's Francois Duval, back after being substituted by Carlos Sainz for the last two rallies, chose the last test to post the third-quickest time - his best performance of the day. After following his pre-event strategy perfectly, Subaru's young signing, Chris Atkinson capped a trouble-free first day of competition in Argentina with an excellent seventh-fastest time. Fastest Stage Time: Loeb (Citroen) 7:02.6
Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth
Overall, I think we should be satisfied with our performance today. We always planned a cautious start, especially with the prospect of bad weather. In the end conditions on the stages weren't too bad and Petter stuck to the plan and ended the day in a strong position behind Sebastien with a clean run. Chris too had a good solid day. It was his first time here and he needed to get a feel for the stages. He's not put a foot wrong and is consistently setting encouraging times.
I'm pleased with our performance on the stages today. The Pirelli tyres and the car have been working well. In the afternoon, when the stages were rougher, we tried a slightly different set-up, which didn't turn out as good as that in the morning. This afternoon we also maybe lost some time with a harder tyre than the morning, but we know where to go, and what to do for tomorrow. We have not been taking any chances and we are not giving up on getting back on top again.
Today was not bad for us and I am happy where we are. The roads were rougher than we hoped, but our pace has still been good. I had a bit of a moment in the last stage today when I took a 200kph jump on slightly the wrong line and landed in the gutter - I was a bit more cautious through the rest of that stage! There's still two long days to go and the stages are faster, and hopefully smoother. I want to stick with Duval and those other drivers who have much more experience.