29 Mar 08
Rally leader Sebastien Loeb had a trouble free run through this morning’s four stages, to bring his Citroen C4 WRC back to service in Carlos Paz with a lead of 1min 32 seconds over the rest of the field.
Loeb remains on course for his fourth Rally Argentina victory but said at the service park that even with a healthy lead the rally was still very tricky. “It’s difficult because there’s so much mud on the stages, he said. “It’s a bit worse than yesterday even because the stages are faster, so when you lose the grip you really notice it.”
Loeb said his plan for the afternoon was to get through the stages without incident, but he also voiced concerns about the suitability of the hard-compound Pirelli tyres in such muddy conditions. “The tyres are not working well at all,” he said. “The problem is they’re the same ones we’ll use in Greece when its 40 degrees, but here it’s 10 degrees and we’re going through 15 cm of mud. A cut could make a big difference. One control cut right around the centre on the tread would make things a lot safer.”
The battle for second place between the two Subaru World Rally Team cars intensified on the last two stages of the morning, as Chris Atkinson reduced the gap to team-mate Petter Solberg to 4.1sec. Atkinson started the day in second place, but lost the place to Solberg on the opening stage.
“I tried hard, but it wasn’t enough,” said Atkinson. “Petter did a really good time [on SS10] he took some massive risks and I couldn’t match his pace. I gave a way a lot of time with a spin on Friday afternoon and now I have to work again, but that’s life. From here on anything can happen. The gap is only four seconds - so it could go either way but I’ll keep pushing.”
Solberg was glad to be up to second, but insisted it wasn’t because he had taken any risks. “The first stage was very, very good but I didn’t push very hard, the car just worked well,” he said. “After that it hasn’t been perfect, and Chris caught me a bit, but overall it’s okay. It’s good fun to be back in the fight, but it’s important for the manufacturers’ championship that we keep it steady. If the car works well, then we challenge the leaders no problem, but we need the consistency.”
Gigi Galli arrived back in Carlos Paz in fourth but with a damaged Ford Focus. “I’m not sure exactly what happened,” said Gigi, “But about the first watersplash on SS13 the car’s transmission tunnel started to get extremely hot and burn the electronics panel. We had a small spin and damaged the exhaust as well. At the middle of the stage I had to open the window because I couldn’t breathe - the whole car was full of smoke. There was no fire, but at the end of the stage the marshals fired an extinguisher inside.” Sadly for Gigi the damage to the car’s electrical systems was serious and the Stobart team withdrew him from the day.
Galli’s misfortune promoted Dani Sordo in the second factory Citroen up to fourth, while reigning Argentinean rally champion Federico Villagra in the Munchi’s Ford rounded out the top five.
Matthew Wilson was eight minutes late leaving service after work to repair a damaged prop-shaft overran. The Brit collected a 1min 20 sec penalty.
Suzuki’s Tony Gardemeister returned to service in 10th place after a difficult morning most of which he spent with rear-wheel drive only. “I got about 200 metres into the first stage (SS10) with four-wheel drive, but one of the front driver shafts broke and we had only rear-wheel drive from then on, said Gardemeister. “I had to stop and get out of the way of Rautenbach on the longest stage, but the biggest problem is that when the car is like this it’s impossible to gauge its potential.”