There are probably six drivers capable of winning Rally Argentina, but the headline battle – and the one most likely to generate a winner - will undoubtedly be the duel between Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb and his Volkswagen rival Sebastien Ogier.
To say that Ogier and Loeb are both extremely motivated to win this week would be an understatement. There’s a huge amount of honour at stake as Loeb, the nine-time champion, faces-off against the former team-mate who looks set to take his title.
This is a battle between WRC legend and ambitious newcomer - and it’s one with a personal twist too, thanks to their tempestuous relationship at Citroen.
Loeb is unbeaten in Argentina. His seven previous wins making him the most successful driver in the event’s history. So it’s hardly surprising that this was one of the handful of rallies he chose to tackle in his retirement year.
A tenth world title might be out of the question, but victory on the season opener in Monte proved he’s as determined as ever to win rallies – and this could be his last one on gravel.
In his pre-rally comments, however, Loeb has sought to downplay his chances – suggesting that his lack of time in the DS3 recently might mean he’s a bit rusty at the wheel. Will Ogier be comforted by this? Unlikely.
Actually, Ogier is playing a similar game. The Frenchman shrugging off the importance of the duel with Loeb and claiming instead that championship points are of more importance. But with a title lead of 54 points he would seem to be able to take a risk...
So far this season they’ve met each other twice - in Monte-Carlo and Sweden - and have taken one win apiece. But with his unrivalled experience of winning on the Rally Argentina stages, and the fact that he loves the event so much, we’re going to tip Loeb to take victory this Saturday.
Putting Ogier and Loeb aside, there are another 11 World Rally Car drivers in Argentina, and given the endurance element of the rally, many of them have a chance of doing well. Keeping out of trouble is important here - as Martin Prokop discovered last year when a reliable run netted him fourth.
Citroen's team-leader Mikko Hirvonen is bound to be a front-runner. The Finn hasn’t won in Argentina yet, but finished second to Loeb in 2012 and 2011 and remains in winning contention this year – especially if the battle of the Sebastiens forces either, or both, to make mistakes.
Dani Sordo performed well in a Ford Fiesta RS in 2012, until an alternator problem forced his retirement from third just before the final stage. However after the rejuvenated form he showed in Portugal he is in with a victory shout too in the Abu Dhabi Citroen DS3.
Volkswagen Motorsport driver Jari-Matti Latvala will also start Rally Argentina brimming with confidence after a strong performance in Portugal. The Finn missed last year’s Rally Argentina after breaking his collarbone in a skiing accident.
The M-Sport squad’s hopes ride with Fiesta RS trio of Mads Ostberg, Evgeny Novikov and Thierry Neuville.
Ostberg was third in 2012, although almost three minutes behind Hirvonen, and is eyeing another podium this week. Novikov lost a wheel early in the 2012 event, but fought back well, setting a string of top-three stage times on his way to eighth.
Neuville made an impressive Argentina debut, becoming one of only four drivers to secure a fastest stage time and finishing fifth overall.
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