The seven-time world champions took the lead on the last stage, after having made up for a one-minute penalty they received on the first day. Despite a roll in the longest stage of the event, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia finished on the third step of the podium, with Hirvonen’s Ford in second. Citroën continued its uninterrupted series of wins in South America, which began in 2004.
The last day of Rally Argentina included a stage of more than 48km to be tackled as the sun rose. So the crews were up at 5am, with a stop in the Villa Carlos Paz service park before battle began. They then set off for Ascochinga for the longest stage of the season so far! Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia were first out on the road and made a cautious start to nurse their 43.7sec lead.
In the final kilometer of the stage, their Citroën DS3 WRC rolled onto its roof. “A stupid mistake,” admitted Ogier at the finish. “All we had to do was to drive to victory. I had noted an apex to be taken in a corner, and it ended in a roll. We were able to restart, but the car was damaged. In addition to the superficial damage, we lost power steering. The windscreen was broken and the rear wing was gone.”
Third place Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena quickly realized the terrain wouldn’t allow them to get the better of Mikko Hirvonen’s Ford Fiesta: “There was fog and it was very damp. In these conditions there’s no road sweeping. Our first split times weren’t great. We had to go ‘pedal-to-the-metal to overtake.”
As it happens, the winner of the last five Rally Argentina events managed to snatch second place in the overall classification at the end of the timed sector.
In the last three stages, Ogier tried to defend his position. Before the start of the Power Stage, he was only 3.3sec in front of Loeb and 5.7sec in front of Hirvonen: “It was really tough. In the last stage, I felt that I wouldn’t be able to hold the wheel. Without power steering, the car was incredibly heavy. We were totally unable to fight,” summed up Sébastien.
While Loeb and Hirvonen took advantage of Ogier’s problems, the Frenchman still took third place. Ogier said: “It’s a lesser evil for the team. We haven’t lost too many points in the manufacturers’ classification. On the other hand, it’s not a great result for the drivers’ title chase. I’m very disappointed.”
Loeb was in attack-mode until the very end and took the lead from his team-mate. At the flag, he was 2.4sec in front of Hirvonen: “After Friday’s penalty, I wasn’t counting on this victory. We pushed really hard to get back in contact with the front runners and to beat Hirvonen. Once again, the outcome was decided by a hair’s breadth. It seems that Rally Argentina is my happy hunting ground!” Loeb congratulated his team-mate and insisted: “I understand what he must be feeling. I’ve had similar misadventures. It’s frustrating and disappointing, but these mistakes can happen. Yet he managed to bring the car home to the finish, which is very important for the team.”
Meanwhile, Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished second, with the Finns missing the top step of the podium by just 2.3sec in their Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car. It was one of the closest finishes in FIA World Rally Championship history.
Only three rallies have produced a closer finale than this sixth round of the season, fought out in the hills of Cordoba province, 700km north-west of Buenos Aires. Just 7.2sec covered the top three drivers after 380.21km of competition over a mix of rocky gravel tracks and smooth asphalt. The result keeps Hirvonen in second place in the drivers' championship. Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila remain fourth in the standings after finishing seventh in their Fiesta.
Latvala was previously involved in the closest finish in WRC history. It happened just two rallies ago in Jordan, where 0.2sec split the leading cars. Ford Abu Dhabi remains second in the manufacturers' points.
For the other Ford-equipped teams, M-Sport Stobart Ford duo Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson finished fifth in their Fiesta RS WRC after an untroubled day. Their team-mates, Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin dropped from seventh to eighth when their car stopped for almost six minutes in on Sunday’s opening stage after the engine swallowed water at a river crossing.
Argentines Federico Villagra and Jorge Perez Companc were sixth for the Munchi's Ford team, while Monster World Rally Team's Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino finished 18th after losing 15 minutes when they went off the road and punctured a front right tire on the opening stage.
In fourth position overall was Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson. The Petter Solberg World Rally Team crew also scored three points by winning the Power Stage for the first time this season.
Three weeks after being on the podium in Rally Italy, Solberg arrived in Argentina with high hopes. In the first stage, the Norwegian took second place and was fighting at the front. On his second passage through Mina Clavero – Giulio Cesare, Solberg set his 400th quickest time in his WRC career, a feat only ten drivers have achieved.
In the final stage on Saturday, the 2003 world champion had to cope with defective power steering, which cost him over a minute. This problem dropped Solberg back to fourth place and he went ‘pedal-to-the-metal’ in the final leg.
He set two quickest times including the Power Stage and the Norwegian finished the rally just outside the top three, only 32.6sec behind the winner. “I’m really delighted to finish the rally on a high note with a fastest time and the three points in the Power Stage,” summed up Solberg. “I knew that we had a chance of winning, but Lady Luck didn’t smile on us. This event was incredibly difficult. Several drivers got caught out. The 15 points we’ve scored are very important for our team.”
The next round is the Acropolis Rally of Greece, one of the WRC's classic rounds. The gravel event is based in Loutraki on 16-19 June.
|1.||S Loeb/D Elena||FRA||Citroen DS3||4hr 03min 56.9sec|
|2.||M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen||FIN||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 03min 59.3sec|
|3.||S Ogier/J Ingrassia||FRA||Citroen DS3||4hr 04min 04.2sec|
|4.||P Flodin/M Andersson||NOR||Citroen DS3||4hr 04min 29.5sec|
|5.||M Østberg/J Andersson||NOR||Subaru Impreza||4hr 09min 13.7sec|
|6.||F Villagra/J Perez Companc||ARG||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 10min 45.4sec|
|7.||J-M Latvala/M Anttila||FIN||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 15min 31.4sec|
|8.||M Wilson/S Martin||GBR||Ford Fiesta RS||4hr 17min 29.6sec|
|9.||P Flodin/M Andersson||SWE||Subaru Impreza||4hr 29min 40.7sec|
|10.||H Paddon/J Kennard||SWE||Subaru Impreza||4hr 37min 31.1sec|
|2.||Ford Abu Dhabi||174pts|
|3.||M-Sport Stobart Ford||75pts|
|6.||Ice 1 Racing||26pts|