28 Mar 08
At the end of day two, and with just three more stages to run, Sebastien Loeb of the Citroen Total World Rally Team is perfectly placed to win his fourth consecutive Rally Argentina on Sunday.
The Frenchman didn’t put a foot wrong all day and maintained his lead margin of more than a minute in conditions which once again caused havoc for many of the other WRC crews.
After yesterday's tough opening to this fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Saturday’s route was equally demanding. Two identical loops of four sandy stages in the Calamuchita valley, south of Carlos Paz, were followed by a second pass over the short Superspecial at Cordoba's soccer stadium. In contrast to yesterday, the day was largely rain-free but the roads remained muddy and slippery after yesterday's downpours.
Returning to Carlos Paz after 154 competitive kilometres, Loeb said the day had gone exactly according to plan: “We started today with a 1m 30s lead and ended it 1 min 20s ahead so its good, it’s what we expected. Conditions were very difficult in the morning because there was a lot of mud, but then it got better and the afternoon was okay. It hasn’t rained since early in the morning so I could push harder to try and keep our lead. We have a good lead now so tomorrow I don’t have to take too many risks. I just want to keep my concentration to the end and keep the position.”
Behind Loeb’s Citroen, Subaru World Rally Team drivers Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson jostled for second position. Atkinson held it at the start of the day, but a terrific drive from Solberg on the opening stage moved him ahead of his team-mate. Atkinson fought back as Solberg reported problems with his car and at the mid-point service just 4 sec separated the pair. But with the very real possibility of the team’s first double podium since Rally GB in 2003, the individual battle fizzled out in the afternoon as both drivers acknowledged the importance of a good team result.
"For one and a half stages this morning things felt really good,” said Solberg. “But after that I was struggling quite a lot. But this afternoon I had a good car for all the stages and I could push much more. The guys made some changes in service and it transformed the whole thing; it gave me much more grip and that gave me the confidence. I like the stages tomorrow so we’re going to take it calm and try not to make any mistakes. It’s certainly not over yet though.”
“I could have got in there and fought; that’s usually my nature,” said Atkinson. “But today considering the conditions, and Petter’s experience, it’s maybe smarter for me to back off and wait for another day to attack. Sure two points could be very valuable at the end of the year - and I’ve thought about that - but I wasted 40 seconds yesterday sitting in the middle of the road; if it hadn’t been for that we would have those points within our grasp. But that’s life. Another podium for me would be really cool and a good start to the year. Considering the past couple of years we’ve had then I’m content with this for the moment - the better results will come in the future.”
Dani Sordo holds fourth place in the second Total Citroen car, 1min 23sec behind Atkinson. The Spaniard experimented with new suspension components on his Citroen C4 WRC throughout the day, but although he didn’t think they were a significant improvement, he was satisfied with his overall position. “The morning lap of stages was very difficult because there was so much mud,” said Sordo. “The second pass was better, but I was using the time to test some new suspension as the gaps behind and in front of me were so big. I’m pleased with where we are now because in Monte Carlo we didn’t have much luck, in Sweden we had good times but a five minute penalty and in Mexico we broke the suspension in the first stage. This rally has been good for my motivation and confidence.”
Citroen privateer Conrad Rautenbach holds fifth after a trouble free run in his C4 WRC. The Zimbabwean said he was delighted, if a little surprised, to be so far up the order. “We knew it was going to be a difficult rally from the very beginning and today the conditions have made it even trickier,” he said. “I tried to keep out of trouble, keep my nose clean and not push too hard. Experience was my main goal because it’s my first time here and only my second time in the C4 - but it seems to have paid off.”
BP-Ford Abu Dhabi driver Mikko Hirvonen, who led yesterday before broken suspension sidelined him for the afternoon, returned this morning and made a strong recovery from overnight 25th place. Hirvonen battled through Saturday’s stages to complete the day sixth overall.
Hirvonen’s team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala had hoped to regain more positions today after a roll on Friday. Latvala 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.
Many other drivers failed to last the day. Stobart Ford Team’s Gigi Galli, who had been fourth after SS13, damaged his exhaust on the morning's final stage and resulting electrical problems could not be repaired in time at service. His team-mate Matthew Wilson 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. Suzuki’s Toni Gardemeister drove all four morning tests with only rear-wheel drive after a front driveshaft broke and was later sidelined with no hydraulic pressure. His team-mate Per-Gunnar Andersson stopped with broken suspension.