Elfyn Evans won all four morning speed tests to build a handsome lead at YPF Rally Argentina during a dramatic Friday morning.
Stage info: SS4 / SS5
SS4: Santa Rosa - San Agustin 1, 23.85km
It seems the whole of Argentina packs onto the high banking alongside the iconic watersplash 650 metres after the start, where Petter Solberg famously rolled in 1999. While this river crossing is relatively simple, the next at 1.4km is trickier and could cause issues due to its depth. It’s a fast, open stage on smooth sandy roads, although it becomes bumpier towards the finish.
SS5: Super Especial Fernet Branca 1, 6.04km
The popular gravel super special stage at the theme park on the edge of Villa Carlos Paz is used in the same format as last year. Two cars at a time drive the twisty circuit which mixes fast corners with slower bends, and also has a jump and a crossover bridge. It’s always a big hit with the fans.
Having won the first two special stages in his Ford Fiesta, the Welshman rattled off two more victories to reach mid-leg service in Villa Carlos Paz with a 30.1sec advantage over Jari-Matti Latvala.
Incredibly rough gravel roads in the Calamuchita Valley made this first full day of competition as much about survival as speed. Evans prospered in his Ford Fiesta, winning the Santa Rosa - San Agustin test and Carlos Paz super special stage to add to his earlier successes.
“It was a really positive morning, not perfect everywhere but we’ve not had the problems that struck a lot of people,” said the Welshman. “It will be tough this afternoon, a balance between pushing and trying to look after the car and tyres on these rough roads.”
Latvala was second in Santa Rosa, the Finn coping with a Toyota Yaris that bottomed out in the rocky conditions. “It’s rougher than I expected, the roughest event of the season. You have to focus and not push to the maximum all the time. I could push more but I have to balance that with the risk,” he said.
Mads Østberg was third in another Fiesta, a further 5.5sec back. The Norwegian described the conditions as ‘horrific’ but had 4.2sec in hand over Ott Tänak, who was more comfortable after tweaking his Fiesta’s set-up.
WRC leader Sébastien Ogier was fifth, the Frenchman enduring the worst of the bone dry gravels from first in the start order. He was 1.9sec behind team-mate Tänak and said: “We’re fighting, but we have seen it’s not just performance that counts here. You have to survive.”
Thierry Neuville dropped 20sec with a puncture in Santa Rosa and completed the top six, 8.5sec behind Ogier in his Hyundai i20 Coupe.
Lorenzo Bertelli and Hayden Paddon were next up, Paddon recovering from an early roll. WRC 2 leader Pontus Tidemand was ninth with Juho Hänninen struggling due to a lack of power in his Yaris in 10th.
Santa Rosa was a disaster for Citroën C3 drivers Kris Meeke and Craig Breen. A bump in the road surprised Meeke, whose car was launched into the scenery. He finished the stage with heavy damage and retired on the liaison section.
Breen’s car jammed in fifth gear after a compression. Although he limped to the finish having conceded more than five minutes, he also retired shortly after.