Citroen's Kris Meeke has ended day two of Rally Argentina still on course for his maiden WRC victory, but the afternoon loop was overshadowed by Hayden Paddon's accident in SS9, which left six spectators injured.
Meeke began the second leg over a minute up on team-mate Mads Ostberg and on the first loop he saw that margin cut to 32.6s, losing time in SS7 – the first test of the day – when he had a spin and also losing in SS8, the long 42.50km San Marcos-Characato 1 stage, after opting to take it cautiously.
The repeat runs were then cut short when Paddon went off the road around 600 metres into Capilla del Monte-San Marcos 2, SS9. Paddon and co-driver John Kennard both escaped unharmed, but six spectators were hospitalised, with one left in intensive care
. The stage was stopped as a result and then cancelled.
It meant only SS10 ran competitively this afternoon, with Meeke coming through and posting the third best time to stretch his lead by 6s, even though he stalled it near the end in a water splash.
“Yes, a sensor alarm went off [after it stalled],” Meeke told the official WRC site. “I panicked and didn't know what to do. I had to switch it off and on again.”
“Just 32km [to go now] tomorrow. I think it will be a Sunday drive for me...” he added.
Speaking back in service, he remarked: “There are only 32 kilometres left to go tomorrow but they are some of the most difficult roads in the World Championship! So it's not over yet, by any means. The roads are barely wider than the car on El Condor, and you have a lot of rocks and moonlike landscapes. It's going to be a long day for us.
“I still have to finish the job…”
Meanwhile, Ostberg has consolidated second, with the margin over Jari-Matti Latvala up to 25.1s. The gap had been 15.1s on Friday night.
“The morning went well, we had good pace. This afternoon, with only one stage to complete, we backed off a little to make sure of bringing home the DS 3 WRC in perfect condition. I remain focused on second place, which is very important for me and for the Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team. We're not taking any risks. We have to keep going to the end to secure a good result for the team!” Ostberg noted.
“I think the gap [to Mads] is too much to close just by driving, but you never know,” added Latvala, who had a big moment in SS8 in the morning when he went off and hit a bank, although he seemed to rediscover some form in SS10 and was second quickest.
“The podium is the target,” continued the Volkswagen man. “Of course it would be better if it was second, let's see. I'm happy with the car and the set-up and for the first time this rally I'm feeling confident.”
Behind, Elfyn Evans now holds fourth, gaining a position in his M-Sport Fiesta in the final stage when Dani Sordo had electrical problems and stopped.
“We've kept out of trouble today and that puts us up to fourth which is the kind of position we were looking to achieve,” Evans remarked. “We weren't here to push the boat out for the top positions so I think that we can be pleased with where we are. Now it'll just be a case of staying calm for tomorrow's final stages.”
Sordo now drops to eighth in the classification, assuming he can re-start on Sunday under Rally 2 and continue in his Hyundai i20 WRC.
Sordo's team-mate Thierry Neuville is fifth, vaulting Ford privateer Martin Prokop in the last stage of the day.
“Overall, I had a very good run today with no real problems. I had a much better feeling with the stages this morning and the conditions were not as bad as yesterday. We had a good rhythm and I felt confident with the car and the pace notes,” Neuville said.
“We made some useful changes at lunchtime service, which made the car more comfortable to drive. We are now in the top five, which is quite good. I will just try to reach the end of this rally and hopefully pick up some Power Stage points.”
Of the rest, Citroen third driver Khalid Al Qassimi lies seventh, with WRC 2 front runners Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Diego Dominguez rounding out the top ten. Al-Kuwari leads the principal support class by almost 3 minutes.
“It's been a good day with no mistakes and no problems which was exactly the plan. We have a good lead of almost three minutes now with just 32 kilometres to go. I told Marshall [Clarke - my co-driver] before the rally that if we drove like this we would win WRC 2 and finish inside the top-ten. But first, we need to do two more stages and make it back to service before my prediction comes true!” Al-Kurwari noted.
Of the Rally 2 runners, VW Motorsport II man Andreas Mikkelsen has made the most headway and is now up to 14th – having started the day 29th – while M-Sport's Ott Tanak is 16th and Championship leader Sebastien Ogier 24th, the latter struggling with no power steering this afternoon. Lorenzo Bertelli also rejoined and ends the day in 26th position in his privately run Fiesta RS WRC.
“I enjoyed the special stages today – particularly the two stages from Capilla del Monte to San Marcos,” said Mikkelsen. “It had a bit of everything: fast sections, technically demanding passages, water crossings. If you have the necessary confidence, you will be quick. As such, I am pleased to have won this stage twice.
“It is a shame that we blew any chances of competing for the win yesterday. For this reason, we have had to change our plan. My goal is now to score as many points as possible on the Power Stage tomorrow. We will push hard then.”
“From a sporting point of view, today was once again not exactly ideal for Julien [Ingrassia – my co-driver] and me,” Ogier added. “This morning there was no wind, which meant that I – like all the drivers, I guess – struggled with the thick clouds of dust created by the car in front.
“Then my power steering failed on the second loop, which ruled out any chance of clocking good times. That was not easy particularly as we had to do a stage that is over 40 kilometres long, and is extremely twisting and demanding.
“Maybe we can still pick up some points on the Power Stage on the final day. However, that certainly won't be easy.”
Rally Argentina now concludes on Sunday with just two runs through El Condor on the bill and a total competitive distance of 32.64km.
SS11, the first run through El Condor, is scheduled to start at 09.58 hours local time [13.58 hours UK time]. Full itinerary for event available - HERE
2015 Rally Argentina: Overall standings after Stage 10 (Top 10):
1. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC 3h 14m 51.7s
2. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 38.6s
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +1m 03.7s
4. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2m 24.6s
5. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +4m 51.0s
6. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +5m 39.0s
7. Khalid Al Qassimi
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +10m 34.3s
8. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +11m 14.9s
9. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari
Ford Fiesta RRC +14m 14.6s
10. Diego Dominguez
Ford Fiesta R5 +17m 10.0s
#Classified under Rally 2
11. Gustavo Saba
Skoda Fabia S2000 +19m 20.1s
12. Marcos Ligato
Chevrolet Agile MR +21m 01.9s
13. Federico Villagra
Ford Fiesta MR +21m 41.7s
14. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +25m 02.3s
15. Jari Ketomaa
Ford Fiesta R5 +26m 03.9s
16. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +25m 02.3s
17. Simone Tempestini
Subaru Impreza STi +26m 35.3s
WRC2 standings after Stage 10 (Top 3):
1. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari
Ford Fiesta RRC 3h 29m 06.3s
2. Diego Dominguez
Ford Fiesta R5 +2m 55.4s
3. Jari Ketomaa
Ford Fiesta R5 +11m 49.3s
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
SS9. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC Went off the road
SS10. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Technical
M denotes Manufacturer entry
*denotes re-started on Saturday under Rally 2
**denotes expected to re-start on Sunday under Rally 2
all times unofficial