Jari-Matti Latvala won three of today's five stages to hold a 31.2sec advantage over Volkswagen team-mate Sébastien Ogier after the third day of Rally Argentina.
Ogier dropped time this afternoon, but holds a comfortable advantage over Kris Meeke with just one day remaining.
Here are the biggest stories of the day:
Update #5: Ogier slips back
The gap between Jari-Matti Latvala and Sébastien Ogier widened to almost 30sec as the Frenchman’s problems in SS8 had further consequences through the following 39.16km stage from Amboy to Yacanto.
Flailing rubber from the front left tyre of Ogier’s Volkswagen Polo R damaged the wing in SS8, and the bumper and spoiler unit fell off in the next test. The lack of cooling triggered the engine into road safety mode when it started to overheat and he lost six seconds to his rival.
“It was a consequence of what happened in the previous stage,” said Ogier. “The bumper was loose and I lost it, and without it I had no power.”
A smell of oil was emanating from Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20, but the Belgian has moved ahead of Martin Prokop, Elfyn Evans and Robert Kubica this afternoon to climb to fifth.
Mads Østberg was in discomfort after further hurting the right hand he damaged during yesterday’s accident.
“In the ruts there must have been a rock and I had a bad kickback through the steering. My right hand is really painful and it wasn’t easy to drive after that,” he explained.
Update #4: Dramas for VW lead duo
The statistics show that Jari-Matti Latvala won the second pass through the 39.99km stage from San Agustin to Villa del Dique (SS8) to extend his lead over Volkswagen team-mate Sébastien Ogier by 3.0sec. But…
Ogier spun at the muddy entrance to a watersplash near the midpoint, the same place that Mads Østberg had an overshoot and Thierry Neuville spun. The Frenchman lost a handful of seconds but worse was to come.
Just 1.5km from the finish the front left tyre on his Polo R began shedding its tread. The flailing rubber smashed much of the front left wing, but curiously the tyre remained inflated.
“It wasn’t a puncture. On the straight, the rubber went out but the pressure is still there. Perhaps something is wrong with the manufacture?” said the incredulous Ogier, who lost another couple of seconds.
Then Latvala arrived to tell of his dramas. “I spun, about 5km from the start, just after a hairpin. The car tucked into the corner and I spun. Then in the last 5-6km, coming into a bridge, I stalled the engine,” said the Finn, who nevertheless extended his lead to 24.2sec.
Update #3: Mikkelsen on a charge
Andreas Mikkelsen shrugged off the disappointment of his final stage retirement yesterday to climb three places on the leaderboard through the Amboy - Yacanto stage (SS7) and move into fourth in his Volkswagen Polo R.
The Norwegian won the opening test from San Agustin to Villa del Dique and was third in Amboy to overhaul Ford Fiesta RS trio Martin Prokop, Elfyn Evans and Robert Kubica.
His next task is a more difficult one – he is 2min 50.9sec behind third-placed Kris Meeke, who scared himself after a lurid moment in a flat out corner.
“It was a six left bend over a crest and I went completely wide into a bank. It was my pace note error,” explained the Citroen DS3 driver.
Team-mate Mads Østberg punctured a right rear tyre 5km from the finish.
Update #2: More turbo woe for Sordo
Dani Sordo’s frustrating rally took another turn for the worse when the Spaniard retired his Hyundai i20 after the opening 39.99km stage from San Agustin to Villa del Dique (SS6).
Sordo stopped after 5.5km and his engineers radioed instructions asking him to switch engine settings. He completed a further 3km before stopping again, but restarted and limped to the finish dropping 17 minutes.
His car’s dashboard displayed a warning message: turbo. “It’s a little bit the same problem as yesterday,” reported Sordo, who worked on the car after the stop line before retiring for the second consecutive day.
Sixth-placed Martin Prokop was lucky to survive a big impact to the right rear wheel after his Fiesta RS slipped off a bridge in a water splash, while the man on the move was Robert Kubica, the Pole climbing ahead of Elfyn Evans to claim fourth in his Fiesta RS.
In WRC 2, second-placed Yuriy Protasov rolled his Fiesta RRC while both Nicolas Fuchs and Jari Ketomaa stopped to change punctures.
Update #1: Burning the midnight oil
After yesterday’s carnage which saw 11 of the 29 starters retire, amazingly the entire field checked into early morning service for the third day.
But there were many late nights in the Villa Carlos Paz service park. Due to the extraordinary attrition, there was a shortage of rescue vehicles to bring stranded cars back and some did not return until almost midnight.
Weary mechanics then started rebuilding them in readiness for the 06.25 restart.
One of the worst teams affected was Hyundai, who lost Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville’s i20 cars on the final stage. Sordo’s problem was traced to a broken exhaust manifold while Neuville’s was a loose turbo pipe, the same issue that delayed Sordo yesterday morning.
Neuville’s car returned just before midnight and work was not completed until 03.00. Team members were back in service just two hours later to prepare for today!
Such was the damage when Mikko Hirvonen slammed his Ford Fiesta RS into a wall in the opening stage that M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson estimated it cost £75,000 to restore it to health.
Mechanics stripped the car back to a shell before tackling this job list:
• Repairs to the front section of the roll cage
• Replacing the dampers on all four corners
• New front and rear suspension
• New gearbox
• Rear differential
• Front and rear right brake calipers