Britain's Kris Meeke heads the leaderboard on Rally Argentina after an incident-packed start, which saw championship leader and pre-event favourite Sebastien Ogier sidelined.
Meeke was quickest in the opening stage of the day, the long 51.99km Agua de Oro-Asochinga test, 31.9 seconds up on his closest rival, despite struggling with a broken handbrake.
The Citroen man then held onto the lead in SS3, and while a right-rear puncture meant he had to take it easy after the halfway point, he was still fifth quickest. He now heads back to the mid-day service in Carlos Paz with a 15.3s cushion over Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala.
“We had a puncture [in SS3],” Meeke confirmed. “We don't know where it was, we had to slow down a little bit. Anyway we did a good time and we are happy. We are still in the race and that is good for us.”
As widely expected, the long first test of the day took its toll on the field, with Ogier
stopping 5-6km from the end with a suspected engine problem. Volkswagen has already confirmed he will re-start on Saturday under Rally 2. Ford privateer Lorenzo Bertelli also had to stop in his Fiesta RS WRC, while Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen both had punctures. Neuville lost over 4 minutes and Mikkelsen lost nearly 2.
Meanwhile, Latvala was one of the few drivers not to have any problems in that stage, posting the third best time after “trying to be clever”. He was then quickest in SS3.
“It [SS3] was a really fast stage. Not many problems so far. I'm happy with what I'm doing. I'm happy I felt like in Finland,” said the VW man.
Mads Ostberg rounds out the top three, 20.9s further back, and after reporting some issues with the engine on his DS 3 WRC in Agua de Oro-Asochinga, he had no such difficulties in Villa Bustos-Tanti and was second best.
Behind, M-Sport duo Ott Tanak and Elfyn Evans hold fourth and fifth, the former 24.3s off P3 and 10.5 seconds up on his team-mate. Evans was held up, however, in SS2, when he got stuck behind the recovering Neuville.
“It's been a clean morning for us with no mistakes and no problems," Tanak remarked. "We took it easy to get used to the rhythm. Some places are really tricky and the conditions on the stages are changing quite a lot.
“Most of these stages are completely new to us too so we've made quite a few pacenote changes over the first pass. It's all looking good at the moment, but there is still a long way to go so let's just see what happens.”
Evans added: “We had a frustrating first stage [SS2]. Initially I made a couple of little mistakes with a half spin into a hairpin and going a little wide in another corner. That lost us a fraction of time, but as the stage went on it really came to us and it wasn't going too badly at all.
“Unfortunately about 20 kilometres from the end we started to catch Neuville and had to contend with a lot of dust. It was so difficult and we couldn't even see the road at some points. It's so easy to take a wheel off when it's like that. We just had to try to keep her in the middle of the road. It was pretty frustrating.
“We had a little issue towards the end of the last one [SS3] – just tapping the rear of the car – but the feeling has generally been really good and the car is working perfectly. Now we just need to focus on keeping it clean and getting to the end of the day.”
Hyundai's Dani Sordo finished the loop in sixth, dropping back five places in SS3 as he had no power steering. The Spaniard, who had been second fastest in SS2, lost just over a minute as a result.
“It was impossible to drive,” Sordo complained. “I had to control the steering all the time. It was very bumpy and hard. I'm really tired after this stage.”
Ford privateer Martin Prokop is next up in P7, suffering a spin in SS3, with Hayden Paddon somehow coming through in eighth despite a catalogue of issues.
“If you ask me, everything is wrong with my car,” said the Kiwi. “No oil in the gearbox. No engine mounts and and the exhaust is hanging. We had to go slowly just to get through the stage. We hope we can manage to get through everything now and be ready for the second time.”
WRC2 class leader Yuriy Protasov and Khalid Al Qassimi complete the top ten, although the former finished the final stage with no right-rear wheel and hub and will now need to attempt some sort of botch fix before limping back to service. If Protasov can't make it back and has to retire from the leg, Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari will take over the lead and move up into the top-ten. Al-Kuwari is currently eleventh, with Neuville 12th after having to stop to change that puncture in SS2. Mikkelsen is 13th and after his puncture in SS2, lost time more time in SS3 with suspension damage.
The action now continues this afternoon with repeat runs through this morning's two tests. SS4, the second pass through the 51.99km Agua de Oro-Ascochinga 2, is scheduled to start at 13.44 hours local time [17.44 hours UK time]. Full itinerary for event available - HERE
2015 Rally Argentina: Overall standings after Stage 3 (Top 10):
1. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC 51m 27.0s
2. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +0m 15.3s
3. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 36.2s
4. Ott Tanak
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 00.5s
5. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 11.0s
6. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +1m 16.0s
7. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 35.4s
8. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +1m 45.2s
9. Yuriy Protasov
Ford Fiesta RRC +2m 16.6s
10. Khalid Al Qassimi
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +2m 59.5s
11. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari
Ford Fiesta RRC +3m 15.4s
12. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +4m 18.0s
13. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +4m 43.7s
14. Diego Dominguez
Ford Fiesta R5 +4m 51.8s
15. Stephane Lefebvre
Citroen DS3 R5 +5m 13.6s
WRC2 standings after Stage 3 (Top 3):
1. Yuriy Protasov
Ford Fiesta RRC 53m 43.6s
2. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari
Ford Fiesta RRC +0m 58.8s
3. Diego Dominguez
Ford Fiesta R5 +2m 35.2s
SS2. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC Technical
SS2. Lorenzo Bertelli
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Stopped
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial