29 Mar 08
Petter Solberg of the Subaru World Rally Team was the big winner on Saturday’s opening stages of Rally Argentina. The Norwegian was fastest through the 22km test from Santa Monica (SS10) and moved ahead of his team-mate Chris Atkinson into second overall.
Solberg pulled another three seconds clear of Atkinson on SS11, increasing the gap to third to 9.1 seconds. “It’s been okay but I started to lose the feeling a bit in the second stage,” said Solberg.
Atkinson said an ‘issue’ with his Impreza had prevented him from pushing hard enough to keep his team-mate behind. “I can’t go faster because something is holding us back,” he said. “It’s a small issue, we know about it. But that’s life. I can’t fight.”
Rally leader Sebastien Loeb remained comfortably in the lead, with a cushion of 1min 27sec back to Solberg, but said he was unhappy with the tricky road conditions.
“The first stage was terribly dangerous,” he said. “It was muddy and slippery and with these [hard compound] tyres I really struggled. Running as first car I was driving through 15 - 20 cm of mud in places, and the wheels were spinning all the time. The roads are wet and soft and there will be some huge ruts when we do the repeat pass. It’s not so nice.”
It wasn’t a great start to the day for the Munchi’s team. Luis Perez Companc retired at the service area because he felt unwell, while Federico Villagra dropped from sixth to seventh after a throttle pedal problem on SS10. “It felt like the return spring on the pedal had gone,” he said. “So I cable-tied my foot to the pedal and now it seems to work okay.”
After rolling his car and losing nine minutes on day one, Jari-Matti Latvala had more problems before SS11 when his car refused to start. The Finn spent more than 15 minutes making repairs, and although he did manage to get going eventually, he is likely to be excluded from the event for losing too much time. “We had a sump-guard impact on SS10 and it seems this broke one of the cables to the starter motor,” said Latvala. “It was a lot of work to get it fixed, but we managed to do it finally. It’s a shame because the car is okay now.”