Three in a row for Loeb
CitroÃ«n's SÃ©bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena secured their third consecutive win in the space of two months today in Argentina. And also for the third time running, the CitroÃ«n pair finished ahead of Marcus GrÃ¶nholm/Timo Rautiainen* (Ford/BFGoodrich). The two former World Champions were joined on the podium in Villa Carlos Paz by Mikko Hirvonen, while the result sees SÃ©bastien Loeb and BP-Ford increase their respective leads at the top of the Drivers' and Manufacturers' points tables.
It took some time for the 2007 Rally Argentina to really get started and the first two days saw competitors cover no more than 4.8km, essentially three laps of the River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires, plus three others of the Estadio ChÃ¢teau Carreras in Cordoba. Adverse weather conditions on Thursday played havoc with the organisers' plans to fly the crews and officials back from the Argentine capital to the rally's base in Villa Carlos Paz, some 700km to the west. When there were no drivers for some of the competing cars - which had returned by road . for Friday morning's re-start, the organisers had no choice but to cancel the day's stages, and only the evening's super-special in Cordoba was maintained!
Once the rally did get underway in earnest, however, the drivers hit the ground running on the stages to the north of Villa Carlos Paz near La Cumbre. SÃ©bastien Loeb set the pace, profiting from the mostly damp and occasionally very wet conditions to claim five stages from a possible five on Saturday morning. Ford/BFGoodrich's Marcus GrÃ¶nholm (2nd overall, 15 seconds behind the Frenchman) was in a pessimistic mood as crews returned to the service park and was left to ponder on how he could reverse the trend.
The loop of faster, wider stages to the south near Santa Rosa de Calamuchita gave the Finn some cause for hope. The morning's rain had compacted the sandy roads and soft compound BFGoodrich tyres were the obvious choice. For Marcus GrÃ¶nholm, the conditions were reminiscent of his home event and he kicked off the afternoon in encouraging style by claiming SS15 (Santa Rosa-San Agustin), but Loeb responded with fastest times on SS16 and 17 to extend his lead to just under 20s by the end of the day.
Despite being lengthened with the addition of a 23km stage, Sunday's action failed to change the picture at the sharp end of the leaderboard and Loeb concluded the event with a score of 10 fastest times from a possible 16 to clinch his third Rally Argentina win in as many years, equalling the record held by Tommi MÃ¤kinen.
Mikko Hirvonen (Ford/BFGoodrich) was on top form in the stadium-based super-specials but failed to follow up his early successes when the event moved into the sierra and he was forced to settle for 3rd place overall, more than 2 minutes adrift of the winner. And once again, his main challenger for the third step of the podium, Petter Solberg (Subaru/BFGoodrich), was hit by problems. The Norwegian figured in 3rd spot after Saturday's La Cumbre loop but his engine then gave up the ghost during the afternoon.
Leg 2's southern loop proved difficult too for Dani Sordo (CitroÃ«n/BFGoodrich) who fell back from 4th to 8th after suffering from a hydraulic problem. He recovered from his disappointment, however, to put in a strong run on the last day which saw him set fastest times on both attempts at the legendary El Condor stage which finally promoted him to 6th at the flag, behind Ford Focus/BFGoodrich runners Jari-Matti Latvala (4th) and Henning Solberg (5th). Chris Atkinson (Subaru/BFGoodrich) and Manfred Stohl (CitroÃ«n/BFGoodrich) also picked up points, while the Drivers' standings are this evening topped by SÃ©bastien Loeb and the manufacturers' table by Ford.
(*) Marcus GrÃ¶nholm finished 2nd overall in Portugal before being penalised for a technical infringement.
THE RALLY ARGENTINA IN BRIEF...
3rd consecutive win for SÃ©bastien Loeb/Daniel Elena in Argentina
Ford increases its lead in the Manufacturers' championship
BP-Ford WRT . GrÃ¶nholm and Hirvonen opted for soft compound g-Force Gravel tyres for Saturday morning and stayed with the same choice for the afternoon, as well as for Sunday's stages, after trying the 'extra soft' variant during Thursday and Friday evening's super-specials.
CitroÃ«n-Total WRT . Loeb chose the same tyres as GrÃ¶nholm for Saturday, although their 'cuts' differed slightly. For Sunday's damp conditions and cool temperatures, however, the CitroÃ«n pair opted for 'extra soft' compound g-Force Gravels. The times of Sordo and Loeb indicate that it was a judicious choice.
Subaru WRT . The same choice as the other teams on Saturday for Solberg and Atkinson. Chris then went for the 'extra soft' compound for Sunday's action (two 3rd-fastest times).
Quotes from Argentina...
SÃ©bastien Loeb (CitroÃ«n/BFGoodrich)
"The Rally Argentina is an event I enjoy because it has a bit of everything, from fast, wide stages to twistier roads, with surfaces ranging from rough in places to softer, sandier ground elsewhere. We pushed hard all day Saturday before opting for a slightly more cautious approach today. I didn't have the slightest problem with my tyres. The soft and extra soft compounds gave me good grip in the damp and were very durable over the long loops."
Matthieu Bonardel, BFGoodrich Rally Programme Manager
"This is something of an event apart and the shortened format forced the drivers to adopt a fast pace from the outset. All our runners opted for the soft compound g-Force Gravel for Saturday morning and were pleased with its grip and durability. They then stayed with the same compound for the afternoon's loop. Sunday morning's conditions were very damp and the temperature quite cool, the same conditions as those encountered in 2005. Both CitroÃ«n drivers and Atkinson switched to 'extra soft' rubber, while the Ford drivers stayed with the 'soft' option. Sordo posted two fastest times this weekend, including one at the end of the 80km loop. It was a fairly 'straightforward' event for our BFGoodrich tyres, but it won't be the same when the championship moves on to Sardinia in a fortnight's time."
After each round of the World Championship, BFGoodrich rewards the three best-placed privateers with a prize comprised of tyres. The podium in Argentina was Jari-Matti Latvala, Henning Solberg and Manfred Stohl.
Total route length: 1,048.23km, including 246.16km in stages
Tyres used: 'soft' and 'extra soft' compound g-Force Gravels
1, Loeb/Elena (CitroÃ«n C4 WRC), 2h 52m 3.8s. 2, GrÃ¶nholm/Rautiainen (Ford Focus WRC06), +36.7s. 3,Hirvonen/Lehtinen (Ford Focus WRC06), +2m 15.2s. 4, Latvala/Anttila (Ford Focus WRC06), +3m 43.0s. 5, Solberg/Menkerud (Ford Focus WRC06), +4m 10.1s. 6, Sordo/Marti (CitroÃ«n C4 WRC), +4m 23.6s. 7, Atkinson/PrÃ©vot (Subaru Impreza WRC2007), +4m 43.4s. 8, Stohl/Minor (CitroÃ«n Xsara WRC), +5m 20.2s. Etc.
DRIVERS: 1, S. Loeb (48 points). 2, M. GrÃ¶nholm (45) 3, M. Hirvonen (36). 4, D. Sordo (22). 5, P. Solberg (16). 6, H. Solberg (15). 7, J-M Latvala & C. Atkinson (12). Etc.
MANUFACTURERS: 1, BP-Ford WRT (81 points). 2, CitroÃ«n-Total WRT (72). 3, Stobart M Sport Ford (30). 4, Subaru WRT (29). 5, OMV Kronos CitroÃ«n (22).
Rally d.Italia-Sardegna (May 18-20)
BFGoodrich WRC tyres: g-Force Gravel
Quota: 50 tyres per priority driver, 33 of which may be used.
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