28 Mar 08
After a morning which belonged to the Fords of Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala, Friday afternoon was a gift to Sebastien Loeb, the man who has won Rally Argentina for the last three years.
With one full, rainy, day of the competition complete, Loeb brought his Citroen C4 WRC back to service in Carlos Paz with a healthy lead of 1min 30sec, but a niggling feeling that things could have been very different had both of the factory Fords had not retired earlier in the day.
“I’d prefer to be leading because I’m the fastest but this morning Hirvonen was faster than me and I don’t like this situation so much,” said Loeb. “But okay, it’s better to be leading in this way than to be behind. Still, I think we have some work to do and some improvements to make because it’s been more and more difficult against the Fords.”
After a dominating performance in treacherous conditions on the rally’s first stage, Hirvonen’s day came to end 15km into the afternoon's opening test. "I hit a big rock in a left corner with the wheel on full lock and the impact broke the bolts in the track control arm,” said Hirvonen. “The rock was in a rut and became exposed after the first pass through the stage so it's not something I would have had in my pace notes. I was unlucky and I'm disappointed because the rally started well and I needed a win here and the points." He will restart tomorrow under Superally rules in 25th position.
After Hirvonen’s retirement Chris Atkinson of the Subaru World Rally Team slid into second place and became Loeb’s nearest rival - albeit 52 seconds back. Atkinson narrowed the gap to Loeb a little over SS6 and SS7, and pulled ahead of his team-mate Petter Solberg who was third, but struggling with a broken right-hand front damper.
Atkinson’s promising run was dealt a blow on SS8, however, when he spun and stalled his Impreza WRC2007 and took around 40 seconds to get going again. “We were pushing and spun on a really slow corner, said Atkinson. “There was no damage, but the car wouldn’t restart so I sat there for about 30 seconds and then had to try and turn the car around in lots of really deep mud. Okay, we’re still second and Petter’s third so it’s good for Subaru, but tomorrow I’ve got to go flat out because Gigi [Galli] and Petter are quick and right behind me. I really could have done with those 40 seconds.”
Solberg said the damper problem had limited his ability to push on the afternoon loop, but that he was happy with the position overall. “We still have a few problems to sort out, and we’ve had a couple of spins today, but we know the reasons why,” he said. “If the car works then maybe we can have a good result tomorrow, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Gigi Galli of the Stobart Ford team holds fourth overall and said he was glad the day was over. “At least the conditions this afternoon were better than the morning, but it was still very difficult. We just tried to drive as carefully as possible - but that’s easier said than done.”
Loeb’s Citroen team-mate Dani Sordo rounds off the top five, but had it not been for a loose steering rack he may well have been third. The Spaniard was fourth for much of the afternoon and had closed the gap to Petter Solberg to less than one second before the penultimate stage, SS8, when his car became difficult to steer and he dropped back behind Galli.
Federico Villagra is the leading Argentinean driver and holds sixth after a solid day in his Munchi’s Ford Focus while Matthew Wilson is seventh in his Stobart Ford.