Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala will go into the final day of Rally Argentina with a 31.2 second lead over team-mate Sebastien Ogier.
Latvala began Saturday's second full-day of competition with a 17.7 second advantage, and he proceeded to stretch that to 21.2 seconds this morning, before gaining another 8.7 seconds this afternoon. He eventually ended the leg with a 31.2 margin after going third fastest in the Parque Tematico super special.
“It has been a really good day, but it has also been a little bit stressful. It was not as relaxed as it looked in the morning,” Latvala noted after SS10. “We had a few moments in SS8, but so did Ogier and we won the stage. It was very stressful that all these things happened on the same stage. I got the rhythm at least, that was the main thing. I was relieved when the stage was finished and I could relax.”
Speaking in the end of day service, he added: “Today was definitely one of my best days in the World Rally Championship, in spite of having spun the vehicle along the way. All the dramatic events show how much everyone was battling for the front position today. I have to thank Miikka [Anttila – my co-driver] for his excellent pace notes. He also did brilliantly to navigate us through the fog during the ninth stage. And the team also provided us with the perfect Polo.
“There are days when everything simply works like clockwork – and you have to make the most of those opportunities.”
“We did everything we could to close the gap, but Jari-Matti put in a strong performance and did a fantastic job,” Ogier continued. “And unfortunately, things didn't go all that well for us. The tread of one of our tyres came off during the eighth stage and the bits of rubber that went flying then damaged our fender. We will be looking into how that could have happened. Shortly before that, I also spun the car, which cost us some time.
“But all is not yet lost, as anything could still happen tomorrow, with the conditions here being so tough. Ultimately, even second place in Argentina would be a good result for me and Julien [Ingrassia – my co-driver] as we compete to win the WRC.”
Kris Meeke meanwhile looks on for the final spot on the podium in his Citroen DS3 WRC, something that will be a welcome boost for the Brit after non-finishes in Portugal and Mexico.
“After recce, we knew this would be the most difficult day of the rally. You need a great deal of experience to be able to go fast on these roads. We have learned a lot,” Meeke remarked. “It was important to avoid making any mistakes and we have achieved that goal. Overall, we're very pleased with the day because we still have a two-minute lead over our closest challengers. We just have to keep it going to the end of the rally!”
Rally 2 re-starters Andreas Mikkelsen and Thierry Neuville hold fourth and fifth, both having made up ground after technical problems in the final stage on Friday. Neuville also set the pace in SS10 to give Hyundai another stage victory and break VW's stranglehold.
“This morning, the aim for the rest of the rally was to make it into fourth place. And we made good a lot of time during the first stage of the day. From then on, I took things a little easier, but still managed to take fourth place before lunch. Fog then descended on the final long stage of the day, so I was especially careful then, to make sure I didn't end up with a flat tyre or something worse,” Mikkelsen said. “All in all, we halved the lead of the third-placed team and made good more than two minutes. I think we can be happy with our performance.”
“We have had a very positive day with clean runs and we had a good push in all stages,” Neuville stated. “We took back some of the time we lost yesterday and we are now in a good place to fight for fifth position if everything continues well. The road conditions were a bit better compared to yesterday so we were also more confident and could really enjoy the driving especially on the fast sections of the stages. It was really nice to see everyone pushing. We tried some set up changes for the afternoon and we were able to find more improvements which helped us move into the top five. It was nice to win the final stage of the day and we will keep pushing tomorrow to learn more and to try and secure a top five result.”
Next up is former Formula 1 pilot Robert Kubica in P6, ahead of fellow M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC runner, Elfyn Evans and the Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC of Martin Prokop in seventh and eighth.
“It has been a good day with no mistakes and no problems. The conditions were not so easy and we took it very cautiously in the fog this afternoon. We had a small moment on SS8 but it wasn't a big drama and we are still here which is the main thing,” Kubica remarked.
“Tomorrow looks like it could be another very difficult day, especially if there is a risk of fog. The stages will be a bit tighter again, but there is no point in taking any unnecessary risks. I am satisfied with the way things are going for the moment, so we just need to continue like this.”
“We've had another clean and consistent run with no mistakes, but I can't pretend that it's not been a little frustrating at times,” Evans added. “There's a lot to learn and the stages have been very testing so we have just tried to keep out of trouble.
“It's important not to do more than what feels 100 per cent comfortable at the time. If you do more than that, the risk goes up and it's a long way to come not to gain the experience. It's so important if you want to progress at this level and, ultimately, we want to ensure that we are in a good position for next year.
“Tomorrow looks like it could be another very difficult day. We know that the stages are very tight and very rough, and then there is the weather to take into account as well. But if we continue like we have today and learn as much as we can from each of the stages, then it'll be job done.”
Behind, Nasser Al-Attiyah is ninth – and also on course for the WRC2 class victory – followed by Mads Ostberg in tenth and Mikko Hirvonen in eleventh. Ostberg and Hirvonen both rejoined today after going off in the opening test on Friday.
“The stages were particularly difficult on the second runs. I did my very best, even though we can no longer fight at the front. Our aim is to at least score some points. In the ruts on SS9, I got a bad kick back through the steering. On the last stage, I could only use my left hand on the steering wheel. I hope the team doctor will be able to find a way of reducing the pain,” Ostberg said.
Hirvonen noted: “It was a bit tricky this morning. I didn't find the best rhythm and it took a while to get back into the swing of things but this afternoon was a lot better. We made some small changes on the car – trying a few different things and doing a bit of testing – which I was really happy with.
“We were then able to set a really good time on SS9. I think we drove that stage really well and I hope that we can carry that speed forward to tomorrow. It's going to be another tricky day, but let's see if we can continue like this and score some points.”
In terms of retirements, after five casualties on Friday, Saturday claimed just one major scalp, namely Dani Sordo. The Spaniard, who was running under Rally 2 this morning, hit a ditch in SS6 and had to park his Hyundai i20 WRC after the test. The team has since confirmed he will not re-start on Sunday.
Rally Argentina now concludes tomorrow [Sunday], with competitors facing two stages, both to be run twice. SS11, Giulio Cesare-Mina Clavero 1, is due to start at 08.56 hours local time [12.56 hours UK time]. In total the final leg comprises 76.78 competitive kilometres.
Rally Argentina: Overall standings after Stage 10 (Top 10):
1. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 3hrs 33m 19.1s M
2. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +00m 31.2s M
3. Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +03m 47.0s M
4. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +05m 43.0s M
5. Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +06m 40.9s M
6. Robert Kubica RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +07m 14.4s M
7. Elfyn Evans M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +07m 52.0s M
8. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +08m 20.9s M
9. Nasser Al-Attiyah Drive DMACK Ford Fiesta RRC +16m 20.6s WRC2
10. Mads Ostberg Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +20m 35.8s M
11. Mikko Hirvonen M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +20m 54.6s M
12. Diego Dominguez Ford Fiesta R5 +21m 52.3s WRC2
13. Nicolas Fuchs Ford Fiesta RRC +24m 09.6s WRC2
14. Gustavo Saba Skoda Fabia S2000 +28m 11.2s WRC2
WRC2 standings after Stage 10 (Top 3):
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah Drive DMACK Ford Fiesta RRC 3hrs 49m 39.7s WRC2
2. Diego Dominguez Ford Fiesta R5 +05m 31.7s WRC2
3. Nicolas Fuchs Ford Fiesta RRC +07m 49.0s WRC2
SS2. Mikko Hirvonen M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Hit a wall M*
SS2. Mads Ostberg Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC Hit a rock and lost a wheel M*
SS2. Ott Tanak Drive DMACK Ford Fiesta R5 Crashed WRC2*
SS5. Dani Sordo Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Engine M*
SS5. Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Engine M*
SS5. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC Technical M*
SS6/SS7. Dani Sordo Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Turbo M
*denotes re-started on Saturday under Rally 2
all times unofficial