28 Mar 08
Rain, fog and low cloud have made the opening two stages of Rally Argentina a harsh wake-up call for the WRC competitors.
As many drivers had predicted after Thursday’s wet shakedown test, Friday’s soft gravel roads deteriorated with the passage of each car, creating deep ruts and a rougher surface for the crews running further down the start order.
Friday morning’s rainy conditions were made worse when thick fog enveloped the first stage at La Cumbre shortly after Mikko Hirvonen - the first driver through - had started.
Hirvonen made the most of the advantageous road conditions and set the fastest time on SS1 - 48 seconds ahead of his Ford team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala who was second. Defending world champion Sebastien Loeb lost time when he spun his Citroen C4 WRC but he completed the stage in the third fastest time.
P-G Andersson of the Suzuki World Rally Team became the first retirement of the event when he parked his SX4 WRC four kilometres before the start of SS1. The team says Andersson reported a problem on the way to the stage - but won’t be any more specific. His car will be brought back to the team’s service area for inspection.
Stage two brought more wet and wild conditions, with many drivers reporting poor visibility in the fog and low cloud. Jari-Matti Latvala was lucky to complete the stage at all after clipping a bank on a corner 2km from the start and rolling his Ford Focus, but the incident cost the Finn nine minutes and dropped him from second to 29th place overall. “I made a mistake - that’s life.” he said. “There isn’t too much damage, just a broken windscreen really, we were lucky there were so many spectators around to push us back over on to our wheels. We should be okay to get through the next couple of stages and back to service.”
Hirvonen was stage winner again on SS2 to increase his overall rally lead to 52seconds. Sebastien Loeb was second quickest through the stage, two seconds slower than Hirvonen, while Chris Atkinson was third, 11 seconds behind the Frenchman.
After a refuelling stop at La Cumbre, crews will tackle two more stages before returning to Carlos Paz for the midday 30-minute service.