Kris Meeke has completed the first full day of Rally Argentina with a comfortable 1min 8.4sec lead, while Jari-Matti Latvala slipped to third in the final test due to transmission problems.
Meeke moved to the fore in the first stage this morning, coming through it 31.9 seconds up on his closest rival, despite struggling with a broken handbrake. He then lost some time in SS3 due to a right-rear puncture, but did enough to still post the fifth best time, returning to the mid-day halt 15.3s up on Latvala.
On the repeats this afternoon, Meeke won both tests in his DS 3 WRC to extend his lead to 53.1s and with Latvala having his issues at the end, his lead stands at over a minute going into the overnight halt with two days of action now between him and his maiden WRC victory.
“We knew that it would be an incredibly difficult day, even the most experienced drivers had problems,” Meeke said.
“For us, on the other hand, the DS 3 WRC was perfect. Although the road surface was very rough, I felt really comfortable in the car and the times were good. I just focussed on my own driving. For the time being, everything is going well, so there's no need to change anything!”
Meanwhile, Citroen team-mate Mads Ostberg moved up to second in the final test in the sister DS 3 WRC and now lies 15.1 seconds up on Latvala.
Ostberg lost power in the opening test this morning, but other than that had a good day, posting three second quickest times and a third. He was also fourth in SS2, despite that engine issue.
“We are sticking to the plan we had before the start of the rally,” Ostberg noted. “The aim is to drive at our own pace, without taking any risks. It's great to finish in second position after this difficult first leg. It augurs well for the rest of the rally, especially with our team-mates in front of us. We have to keep going tomorrow.”
Latvala, who lost almost a minute in SS5 and SS6 with his problems, added: “What an eventful day of rallying. Not just for me, but for the entire team. The conditions were – as we expected – extremely tough for man and machine.
“As far as the tactics are concerned, I tried not to push too hard from the start. And that worked well. We had a problem with the power train on the fifth special stage. After that we didn't really have proper drive and that meant we lost almost a minute to Kris Meeke.
“First and foremost I am just happy to have got the car back to the service after this tough day. Tomorrow I will be able to attack on 'all fours' again, and try to put some pressure on the two leading Citrorns. There is still a long way to go, and a lot can happen. We certainly saw that today.”
Behind, Hyundai's Dani Sordo won the final test to stretch his lead over Elfyn Evans from 1.4s to 5.5s. Sordo lost the power steering in SS3 and was over a minute off the pace as he struggled with his Hyundai i20 WRC. With the car fixed in the afternoon, however, he was back on it, going fourth in SS4 and fifth in SS5, before winning SS6.
“Firstly, it is important to acknowledge the fantastic support that Marc [Marti – my co-driver] and I have had so far this weekend. The fans are really great and it helps to motivate us,” Sordo said. “It was a difficult start for most drivers so I think we can be satisfied to finish the day in fourth place. It was certainly very pleasing to end it with a stage win!
“We started out strongly this morning and I felt really good in the car. We were running well in the long opening stage but the power steering broke 15km from the end of the stage. I had to drive the remaining kilometres of that stage, as well as the road section and SS3 without the power steering, which was incredibly hard work, and we lost a lot of time.
“We pushed hard in the afternoon despite having to manage the tyres and that allowed us to make up some positions. There's a long, tough two days to go so we'll have to keep focussed and hope for more progress tomorrow. A podium is still in our sights.”
Evans also went well, peaking with third best times in SS3 and SS5, the two runs through Villa Bustos-Tanti: “I think we've had a good day,” noted the M-Sport man. “We came here wanting to show a vast improvement from this time last year, and I think we have done that.
“We were actually quite lucky at the end of SS3 as we clipped a bank and damaged the steering. The mechanics did a great job as always – replacing the [steering] rack in service to give us another perfect car for the afternoon and we had a clean run with no problems. I had a pretty good start to the long stage [SS4] but I felt the rhythm going towards the end where I hadn't had chance to check the notes through the morning.
“Other than that I think it's been a strong day and we are still here which is the main thing on an event like this. Tomorrow will be another tough day, but I'm looking forward to the fight.”
Martin Prokop rounds out the top six in his privately entered Fiesta, with Hyundai team leader Thierry Neuville seventh and Khalid Al Qassimi eighth in a third DS 3. Neuville would potentially have been up in the top-three, but for a puncture in SS3 that cost the Belgian over 4 minutes.
“We had a better afternoon than we did this morning when an early puncture cost us a lot of time. This morning's two stages were difficult for everyone,” Neuville noted. “We picked up a puncture and tried to change it, which lost us several minutes.
“In the second morning stage, we managed to catch up with Andreas [Mikkelsen] in the stage but we got stuck in his dust. We had to push him a little to overtake but the contact was a bit stronger than anticipated.
“Everything was fine, thankfully, and we could both bring the cars to service. In the repeat stages, we found a good rhythm and could set some respectable times. It was still tough but that is the nature of this rally. We will continue to push tomorrow.”
In terms of retirements, five major drivers went out on Friday – namely Championship leader and VW #1 Sebastien Ogier, Lorenzo Bertelli, VW Motorsport II man Andreas Mikkelsen, Hyundai Motorsport N runner Hayden Paddon and M-Sport's Ott Tanak.
Ogier went out first in SS2, with technical problems forcing him to park his Polo R WRC 5-6km from the finish. Bertelli also stopped in SS2.
Mikkelsen and Paddon – despite problems – both made it through the morning loop, only to be unable to start SS4. Tanak did start that test, but lost the front-left wheel after hitting a rock in a water splash.
In WRC2, Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari leads – and is ninth overall - almost 2 minutes up Yuriy Protasov. Diego Dominguez is third.
“It has been a really tough day, as expected,” Al-Kuwari reflected. “We had a good plan for the day which was to be as fast as we can whilst still being safe. It's great to end the day in the lead, but Yurii is pushing really hard. For now I am really happy, and tomorrow we will have time to think about our strategy. It's a long rally and nothing is finished yet.”
“It's been a crazy day but I have been really happy with our speed and with the way myself and Pavlo [Cherepin – my co-driver] have been working together. But of course we had a problem [at the end of SS3] which means that we are not in the position we want to be in!” Protasov explained.
“It almost felt like we had a puncture which then forced us wide and into the bank where we lost the wheel. But I was determined to keep fighting. I ran back into the stage, got the wheel, and then Pavlo and I fixed it and got it back to service where the mechanics made a much better repair! Now we want to finish this amazing story by taking back the lead. It won't be so easy, but we will try for sure!”
Rally Argentina now continues on Saturday, with two stages on the bill, both to be run twice, making up a total distance of just over 130km.
SS7, the 23.10km Capilla del Monte-San Marcos 1 test, is scheduled to start at 08.28 hours local time [12.28 hours UK time]. Full itinerary for event available - HERE
2015 Rally Argentina: Overall standings after Stage 6 (Top 10):
1. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC 1h 44m 47.8s
2. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +1m 08.4s
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +1m 23.5s
4. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +1m 54.2s
5. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 59.7s
6. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 27.4s
7. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +5m 06.2s
8. Khalid Al Qassimi
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +6m 01.8s
9. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari
Ford Fiesta RRC +6m 46.3s
10. Yuriy Protasov
Ford Fiesta RRC +8m 43.3s
11. Diego Dominguez
Ford Fiesta R5 +9m 22.0s
12. Stephane Lefebvre
Citroen DS3 R5 +9m 58.2s
13. Gustavo Saba
Skoda Fabia S2000 +10m 32.6s
14. Federico Villagra
Ford Fiesta MR +11m 42.3s
WRC2 standings after Stage 6 (Top 3):
1. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari
Ford Fiesta RRC 1h 51m 34.1s
2. Yuriy Protasov
Ford Fiesta RRC +1m 57.0s
3. Diego Dominguez
Ford Fiesta R5 +2m 35.7s
SS2. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC Technical
SS2. Lorenzo Bertelli
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Stopped
SS3/4. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC Technical
SS3/4. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC Technical
SS4. Ott Tanak
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Lost a wheel
M denotes Manufacturer entry
*denotes to re-start on Saturday under Rally 2
all times unofficial