Loeb nabs Rally Argentina win in final test
29 May 2011
Citroen's Sebastien Loeb came through to win Rally Argentina today overhauling his team-mate, Sebastien Ogier in the very final stage.
Loeb looked to be out of contention on Friday after he picked up a one minute penalty for checking into service B early. That dropped him right back and he finished the opening leg more than 1.5 minutes off Jari-Matti Latvala in P1.
One by one though his rivals had their own troubles, with Latvala and Petter Solberg both slipping back on Saturday afternoon. Latvala was forced out after damaging a front suspension link in SS13, promoting Ogier into the lead, while Solberg lost over 50 seconds in the final test when his power steering failed. Suddenly not only was Loeb up from fifth to third, but he was only four seconds off Mikko Hirvonen and well poised to claim another scalp.
Sunday provided a dramatic end to proceedings however, and in the very first test, the run through the monster 48.21 kilometre Ascochingha-Agua de Oro test, Loeb's team-mate Ogier rolled his DS3 WRC. Although the youngster could continue he had to limp through the remaining three stages with no power steering, haemorrhaging time and in the last test the inevitable happened. By now Loeb had cut Ogier's overnight lead, which was over 40 seconds, to just 3.3 and the seven-time WRC champion swept through to take his sixth win in Argentina. The result extends his lead in the drivers' championship from 7 points to 13.
“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,” Loeb reflected. “Once again the outcome was decided by a hair's breadth. It seems that Rally Argentina is my happy hunting ground!”
Hirvonen meanwhile had to be content with second, missing out on the victory by just 2.2 seconds: "I made a couple of small mistakes at the start of the [final] stage and things were so close that I knew then that victory wasn't going to be mine," Hirvonen conceded.
"Second was a good result after a hard weekend, which was a strange one also. I struggled on the asphalt sections and better driving there could have given me the win. I'm annoyed to lose by such a small margin, but the bonus points from the Power Stage were a boost.
"We received presents from some drivers and gave our own presents away to others. I fought hard and it was a great ending to the event. I love this rally because the gravel roads are fantastic and there are so many fans alongside the road that it's a great feeling. Second place brings good points, but I need to start winning rallies to improve my chances of lifting the championship."
Ogier took third, but was gutted to have made a mistake right at the end of SS16 this morning: “A stupid mistake,” he admitted. “All we had to do was to drive on 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 no longer had power steering. The windscreen was broken and we lost our rear wing. I'm really very disappointed.”
Petter Solberg was next up and fourth. He ended the event with a flourish, winning the Power Stage and taking the 'Abu Dhabi Spirit of the Rally' award for his 400th stage win on Friday. However he had mixed feelings and was still disappointed to have lost so much time when his power steering failed at the end of the second leg.
“I'm so happy about finally getting that Power Stage win. That was good fun, and a real bonus for me but of course, at the same time I'm a bit disappointed about not being on the podium,” 'Hollywood' confirmed. “We had the chance, and without the problem yesterday evening, I am sure we would have been in a real fight for the win today.”
Further back Mads Ostberg completed the top five for the M-Sport Stobart Ford team, albeit over 4.5 minutes adrift.
Local ace Federico Villagra came in sixth on home ground for the Munchis team, while Jari-Matti Latvala re-started today under the SupeRally and took P7.
“It was a big disappointment to lose the lead yesterday,” Latvala noted. “It was a frustrating weekend because I hoped for much more from the final result. I had good pace on both the asphalt and the gravel sections. But sometimes my gravel speed was inconsistent. When I pushed too hard to find extra speed I slid sideways and lost time, so I need to drive more smoothly.”
Britain's Matthew Wilson slipped back to eighth today, losing six minutes in SS16 when his engine swallowed water at a river crossing.
PWRC runners Hayden Paddon and Patrik Flodin completed the top ten - the former finishing over 7.5 minutes up on his Swedish rival to claim the Production victory.
Of the rest Ken Block was 18th in his Monster WRT-run Fiesta RS WRC, getting to the end thanks to the SupeRally. He had been as high as ninth until a broken front driveshaft put him out on Saturday in SS11.
The WRC now heads to Greece for the Acropolis Rally in a few weeks time, which runs from June 16-19.