Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala extended his lead slightly on Rally Argentina this morning and now goes into Saturday's mid-day service with a 21.2 second cushion.
Latvala began the second full day of competition with a 17.7 second advantage and he managed to beat team-mate, Sebastian Ogier in both tests, eking out 0.3 seconds in SS6 and 3.2 seconds in SS7, when he notched up his third stage win of the event.
“The morning was great fun. I really enjoyed the special stages, I particularly like the 'Amboy-Yacanto' stage. The track is really difficult in places, but these are the sections where you can increase your lead over competitors,” Latvala stated. “We concentrated on what we were doing and it's very positive that we extended our lead further on both stages.”
Ogier unsurprisingly wasn't quite so chipper: “It was not a clean driving. The surface was very soft and I'm not driving well. I'm trying to push as much as I can,” he stated after Amboy-Yacanto 1.
Speaking back in service, he added: “We might not have got off to the best start today, but at least the gap hasn't increased considerably. There were a lot of stones on the morning's stages once again so we had to reduce the speed here and there. We're halfway through the rally now so there is no need to take any big risks. I want to fight for victory, but not by taking any unnecessary risks.”
Citroen's Kris Meeke meanwhile is next up and a lonely third, around 2 minutes off Ogier in P2 and almost three minutes ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen in fourth.
Mikkelsen re-joined under Rally 2 today, setting the pace in SS6 and the third best time in SS7 to move up from seventh to fourth, leapfrogging Robert Kubica, Elfyn Evans and Martin Prokop in one stage.
“Our aim this morning was to finish fourth by the end of the rally. We didn't think we would have already achieved this after the first two stages today. We went on the attack, but didn't take any unnecessary risks,” Mikkelsen stated. “We made sure that we always left enough room to react. This proved invaluable in one situation: In one of the water splashes our Polo drifted slightly to the left, but the bend curved to the right. Apart from that we had two perfect special stages.”
Kubica, who was just behind Evans last night, is now fifth, the Welshman 16.5 seconds back in the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, then comes Prokop, Thierry Neuville – another re-joining under Rally 2 – followed by WRC2 front runners, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Diego Dominguez in ninth and tenth. Al-Attiyah heads the WRC 2 class by over 5.5 minutes.
“The rally is going well for us at the moment but there is still a long way to go,” Kubica commented. “Today's stages were not as extreme as yesterday, so the pacenotes were a little slow in the fast corners, but that is the compromise we had to make in order to move forward this weekend. To be honest, I came here just to finish. We made some changes to the pacenotes in preparation for that and that is the priority.
“It's not easy and as we saw yesterday there were many mistakes and so many rocks to watch out for. Fortunately, we have had a really clean run and it's going OK. It's difficult to say that I am happy as I am always looking ahead, but for the moment, it is good.”
“We've increased the first pass pace from yesterday,” Evans added. “It still feels safe at the moment, but we don't want to veer to far from the plan as it can still be quite tricky out there. It's frustrating in a way because we're effectively in a battle, but not battling. That said, we also need to be clever and stick to our target. We came here to learn and to gain experience, and in that respect, it's been a good morning.”
Further back, Mads Ostberg and Mikko Hirvonen are now 13th and 15th respectively having re-started. Dani Sordo re-joined as well in his Hyundai i20 WRC, but went out again after SS6.
“It's been an OK morning but I think I've been driving a little too softly and not really attacking the stages as I maybe should – that inevitably loses time,” Hirvonen said.
“Everything on the car is working perfectly so the boys did a really good job there. We did try a few things with the geometry which didn't work out quite as we would have hoped, but that isn't a big issue. We just need to carry on. It's mainly about finding the right rhythm and I'm sure if we push a bit harder, the times will come.”
Saturday's action now continues with a repeat-run through this morning's two stages. SS8, San Agustin-Billa del Dique 2, is due to start at 14.59 hours local time [18.59 hours UK time].
Rally Argentina: Overall standings after Stage 7 (Top 10):
1. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 2hours 42m 56.5s
2. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +00m 21.2s
3. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +02m 29.9s
4. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +05m 20.8s
5. Robert Kubica
RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +05m 26.8s
6. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +05m 43.3s
7. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +06m 01.5s
8. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +06m 08.9s
9. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Drive DMACK Ford Fiesta RRC +10m 28.1s
10. Diego Dominguez
Ford Fiesta R5 +16m 14.9s
11. Gustavo Saba
Skoda Fabia S2000 +17m 15.2s
12. Nicolas Fuchs
Ford Fiesta RRC +19m 37.0s
13. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +20m 16.0s
14. Miguel Zaldivar
Ford Fiesta R5 +20m 29.2s
15. Mikko Hirvonen
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +20m 40.2s
WRC2 standings after Stage 7 (Top 3):
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Drive DMACK Ford Fiesta RRC 2hrs 53m 24.6s
2. Diego Dominguez
Ford Fiesta R5 +05m 46.8s
3. Gustavo Saba
Skoda Fabia S2000 +06m 47.1s
SS2. Mikko Hirvonen
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Hit a wall
SS2. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC Hit a rock and lost a wheel
SS2. Ott Tanak
Drive DMACK Ford Fiesta R5 Crashed
SS5. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Engine
SS5. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Engine
SS5. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC Technical
SS6/SS7. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Turbo
*denotes re-started on Saturday under Rally 2
all times unofficial