Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala dominated the opening loop in Argentina this morning, taking a clean sweep of stage wins to establish a 12.3 second cushion at the top of the leaderboard.
Latvala, who had to have a new gearbox fitted after a problem in the shakedown yesterday and who was fourth fastest in the short super special on Thursday, was immediately on it this morning, completing the first-run through El Mirador-San Lorenzo in 10 minutes 27 seconds – 2.5 seconds up on his closest rival.
The Finn then pushed on in SS3, Mina Clavero-Giulio Cesare 1, taking his second stage win on the trot. It was in the final test of the loop though, which included a 20 kilometre section on tarmac at the end, that the Crash.net
columnist made it a hat-trick of stage wins and gained the most ground, extending his lead by 9.3 seconds after opting to lower his Fiesta RS WRC by 20mm.
“It was so fast [in SS4] it was like racing at Nürburgring again,” Latvala said. “Lowering the car by 20mm meant it moved around less and gave me more confidence in long corners. I didn't change tyres all morning because I wanted to ensure they were worn to give a better feeling on asphalt.
"I prepared for this by testing for half a day on asphalt in Sardinia last month using gravel tyres and that gave me confidence. The gravel roads were soft and sandy. There were some small ruts but the loose gravel wasn't cleaning so road position wasn't an issue," he added.
Petter Solberg meanwhile heads the chasing pack in his privately entered Citroen DS3 WRC car. The Norwegian was second quickest in both tests, but conceded that Latvala had 'killed' the opposition on the asphalt in SS4.
Sebastien Ogier lies third, 3.9 seconds off P2, while overnight leader Sebastien Loeb has dropped to fourth in the other works Citroen DS3 WRC.
“It was okay for us,” said Ogier. “We have a good rhythm. We just lost some time in the last one. On the tarmac it is a bit strange and it is just so fast. But apart from that I am happy with the morning. It is just the start.”
“Of course I am happy with what I have done,” Loeb added. “We have the same rhythm as most of the other drivers – except one. But for the rest it is a good battle. It is sweeping, but not quickly. Between the first three or four cars it is maybe not a big difference. That is not the problem.”