Jari-Matti Latvala leads Rally Argentina by 17.7sec from Volkswagen team-mate Sebastien Ogier after the duo traded places throughout the first full day.
It was a brutal day for the big names with Mikko Hirvonen, Mads Ostberg, Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo and Andreas Mikkelsen all retiring.
Here are the biggest stories of the day:
Update #4: Latvala leads amid more carnage
Jari-Matti Latvala powered back into the lead after blitzing Volkswagen Polo R team-mate Sébastien Ogier by more than 18sec in the second pass through the Ascochinga to Agua de Oro stage (SS5).
Latvala took a 17.7sec advantage, but was perhaps a little fortunate. The Finn finished with two chunks of rubber missing from his front left tyre, but the Michelin rubber did its job and remained inflated.
Ogier was an agitated man at the finish. He jumped out of his car to check the back before saying: “The rear tyre was moving a lot. The grip wasn’t good and I lost a lot of time.”
It was a disastrous stage for Hyundai, who lost both i20 cars. Dani Sordo stopped 1km after the start with an engine problem and then Thierry Neuville, who was driving slowly with similar issues, was asked by his team to pull over rather than risk terminal damage.
Andreas Mikkelsen brought the number of World Rally Car retirements to five when he parked his Polo R after 43.90km with what is believed to be an alternator problem.
Update #3: Ogier back in front
Sébastien Ogier regained the lead after setting fastest time through the second pass of Santa Catalina / La Pampa (SS4).
He was quickest by 3.8sec in his Volkswagen Polo R from team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, and now heads his colleague by five-tenths of a second in the standings.
Thierry Neuville emerged from the stage with a buckled left rear wheel on his Hyundai i20 but the Belgian wasn’t too concerned.
“There was a stone on the line and I slid past it. I didn’t hit it really, it was a very, very small impact and everything seems to be fine,” added Neuville, who replaced the wheel ahead of the Ascochinga test.
Nicolas Fuchs, lying second in WRC 2, lost a place when he dropped two minutes in his Ford Fiesta RRC after breaking a rear differential on the liaison section to the stage.
Update #2: Latvala moves ahead
Fastest time through the marathon 51.88km stage from Ascochinga across the Sierras Chicas mountains to Agua de Oro (SS3) promoted Jari-Matti Latvala into the lead.
The Volkswagen Polo R driver, second in the start order, was surprised at the good grip on roads that were damp in places. He was 10.3sec clear of team-mate Sébastien Ogier, who felt he lost time sweeping loose gravel in the dry sections. The gap between them is 3.3sec.
Andreas Mikkelsen drove the last 20km with a power steering problem on his Polo R. “I hit a stone with the front right,” explained the Norwegian, who was still third fastest.
Also unhappy was Thierry Neuville, whose Hyundai i20 ended the test trailing the cover which protects the rear differential and suspension. “It distracted me at the beginning because I didn’t know what it was,” said the Belgian, who struggled for grip.
Team-mate Dani Sordo worked furiously on his i20 before the start after being delayed in the previous test. He tried to fix a loose turbo pipe but could not clip it in place and drove the stage with no boost. He dropped over nine minutes to add to the three minutes in the previous test.
Update #1: Hirvonen and Østberg out
A dramatic start to today’s first full day of Rally Argentina – both Mikko Hirvonen and Mads Østberg were sidelined in the opening 27.09km stage from Santa Catalina to La Pampa (SS2).
On what could be the roughest and toughest Rally Argentina ever, this opener was the stage the drivers feared more than any. It is littered with rocks and compressions where torrential downpours earlier in the year have washed away the road.
Hirvonen hit a wall 7km after the start and the damage to his Ford Fiesta RS was too great to continue.
Next to go was Østberg, who struck a rock 16km into the stage and ripped a wheel from his Citroen DS3.
Also in trouble was Dani Sordo, who dropped almost three minutes in his Hyundai i20. He struggled with a lack of power, which the Spaniard thought might be related to the air intake into the turbo.
Fastest was Sébastien Ogier, for whom this was his 150th stage win in a Volkswagen Polo R. The Frenchman was 2.8sec clear of team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, who reported an intercom problem.
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