Sébastien Ogier led the way on the shakedown for this weekend's Rally Argentina, outpacing Citroën Total World Rally Team team-mate and namesake Sébastien Loeb over the 6.23-kilometre Carlos Paz-Cabalango run – as two of the duo's principal rivals encountered early setbacks.
In bright but cool conditions, Ogier completed the stage in a time of 4m42.1s – eight tenths of a second swifter than countryman Loeb – and the younger of the two Frenchmen professed himself in optimistic spirits looking ahead.
“It was a difficult shakedown, because early in the morning there was a lot of dust and it was difficult to have good visibility when the sun was coming,” the 27-year-old told the official World Rally Championship website, “but the car was good and I have a good feeling. It's a better start than in Sardinia already.”
Former World Rally Champion Petter Solberg might have wound up third-quickest in his privately-entered PSWRT Citroën DS3 WRC, but the front-right driveshaft on the luckless Norwegian's car broke on his second run through the all-gravel stage – albeit a misfortune that did not knock his confidence.
Next up was fellow Norwegian Mads Østberg, the best-placed Ford Fiesta RS WRC competitor in fourth – belying the fact that the M-Sport Stobart ace has never competed in Argentina before – with the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team works entry of Mikko Hirvonen a mere tenth of a second further back in fifth. Sixth-fastest was local favourite Federico Villagra, but the Munchi's man did confess to concerns about tyre wear.
“I was really happy with the shakedown but a little worried about the tyres,” he explained. “We did only four runs, which was 28 kilometres, but the front tyres were in a really bad condition. I don't know how it will be for the second pass on the stages when the rally starts.”
Matthew Wilson placed seventh with Peter van Merksteijn Jr eighth, whilst Hirvonen's team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala suffered a 'one-off specific' transmission-related failure on his second pass through the shakedown stage, with his sole competitive effort leaving the Finn ninth on the timesheets.
“The first run felt really good and the car was behaving really well,” revealed the Crash.net
columnist. “The grip seems to be really good, too, although the tyre wear was a concern and we know it will be warm on the rally.
“[On the second run] I went a few metres forward and lost drive. I thought it was the driveshaft, [so] I kept going slowly to the end of the shakedown road and then came onto the road section. I was a bit worried [about] what was wrong with the car, so I stopped there. Yes, it's frustrating to have this problem – we have done so many shakedowns and don't usually get any problems – but it's better to have problems now than during the rally.”
Ken Block's Monster-backed Fiesta rounded out the top ten, ahead of Daniel Oliveira in the Brazil World Rally Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC and PWRC pace-setter Patrik Flodin in twelfth overall.