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Sainz takes lead on day one of Rally Argentina

9 May 2003


Carlos Sainz is the overnight leader of the fifth round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship in Argentina.

Sainz's Citroen is 22.4 seconds ahead of Ford's Markko Martin, after a largely trouble-free day for the double world champion, who posted three fastest times through the day.

Martin was slowed by transmission trouble on the second loop of stages, but set fastest times on two of the final four stages of the day to move back into the frame. Richard Burns led Peugeot's charge, having been the first through the day's 11 stages to the north of the event's base in Villa Carlos Paz.

Marcus Gronholm led competitors into the first full day of competition on Rally Argentina. The Peugeot driver had set established a 2.3 second lead on the two runs at the Pro Racing superspecial stage just outside Carlos Paz last night. Gronholm's grip on the lead of the rally was wrenched free when he smashed the right-rear wheel on a ninth-stage rock, dropping almost two minutes and five places.

At Citroen Colin McRae retired his Xsara WRC on SS9 when the car caught fire, while Sainz's car suffered power steering problems on the first loop of stages. Sebastien Loeb enjoyed a trouble-free day in his Xsara.

Sainz led the event at the end of the opening leg. The Spaniard had dropped from third to fourth after SS5, but despite the steering problems on the next stage he set fastest time and moved into second. One stage later he was into the lead and remained there for the rest of the day.

Loeb's progress was undramatic, save for an overshoot at the same place as Sainz in SS9. Loeb made alterations to the transmission set up of his Xsara after the first loop of stages and was much happier thereafter. McRae's rally ended on the opening leg for the second event in succession, with a fire on SS9.

''The steering started to go at the end of stage five,'' noted Sainz, ''It was quite difficult, some times it would be there and then it would fail for a couple of corners. In stage nine I was too fast into one corner, we overshot and I stalled the engine. That cost us about ten seconds. Today we have been surviving these stages, some of them have been quite rough. I am pleased.''

''I am really happy with the changes I made to the car,'' added team-mate, Loeb, ''it made it easier for me to get on the power earlier in the corners.''

Colin McRae continued: ''Smoke started to come into the car during the stage. When we started to get a fire in the car, we pulled over to put it out. We stopped three times in the stage, but in the end it was too bad and we stopped for good.''

Martin's Ford Focus RS WRC 03 suffered gearbox problems on the second loop of stages. Mikko Hirvonen's 2002-specification Focus hit turbo trouble, while Francois Duval's car was mechanically reliable.

Martin was once again the fastest Ford - holding a top three spot until he lost three gears on SS9. The Estonian driver dropped to fifth, but bounced back with fastest time on the next stage - moving up to second by the end of the leg. Duval's day started badly when he hit a rock hard two corners into the first stage of the day and smashed a wheel. He then dropped more time when he caught Petter Solberg following the Subaru driver's fifth-stage roll. Hirvonen's problems also stemmed from hitting a rock. The young Finn went over a rock which flattened the exhaust on his Focus and caused a loss of power and damage to the turbo.

Martin said: ''The engine didn't feel right this morning, it wasn't responding right - then the handling wasn't right either. We made the car slightly stiffer for the afternoon - going back towards on New Zealand specification. Then came the gearbox problems; I was having to drive flat out because we only had three gears - we were bouncing off everything.''

Duval noted: ''It was hard work following in Petter's dust, but the big problem was hitting the rock early in the day. It wasn't right to call it a puncture, the mousse never stood a chance, we'd broken the wheel.''

Hirvonen commented: ''I'm just not having any luck at all. We had some big problems with the car being down on power after we'd hit the rock and then this afternoon the turbo failed [thought to be a symptom of the earlier problems]. We had to stop in the stage and disconnect the pipe. It's been a frustrating day.''

All three of the Peugeot 206 WRCs ran without mechanical fault through today's nine stages. Gronholm smashed the right-rear suspension on his 206 WRC on the ninth stage though, dropping 1m 50s getting the car out. The reigning world champion had been leading the rally early in the leg. Gronholm also claimed to have been accredited a wrong time on SS7. Should his demand be accepted, he would still remain in sixth, but 20 secs closer to Loeb.

Richard Burns felt his car was sliding too much on the first loop of stages. He made changes to the car throughout the day in an attempt to try and fine tune the handling. He would end the day in third place. Harri Rovanpera ended the day fourth.

Gronholm said: ''The rock we hit was big, very big. It was only a second-gear corner, but we slid wide and hit the rear wheel hard on the rock. This was not too far into the stage, so for the next 24 kilometres things were very exciting.''

Burns added: ''The car didn't feel right at the front. We were suffering from quite bad understeer, it just won't turn in. Even in the fast corners, you turn in and you can feel it wandering.''

Rovanpera continued: ''Running further back on the road really hasn't been good for us today. This morning we had two punctures after hitting rocks that had been pulled out and then we dropped 40 seconds in Mikko Hirvonen's dust.''

Over at Subaru Tommi Makinen's Impreza WRC 2003s suffered serious transmission problems at the start of SS8, forcing the Finn to drive two stages and the road sections in second gear. Petter Solberg's car ran reliably throughout.

Makinen held an early top three place after setting two fastest times, but his hopes of winning this event went out of the window with the gearbox problem, on the last of the middle loop of today's stages. The problem was with the selector and the unit was changed at lunchtime service. Unfortunately for the Finn, he dropped so much time going through SS8 that he incurred a penalty for late arrival at the start of SS9. Petter Solberg rolled on the fifth stage this morning, dropping two minutes, but ran without problems for the remainder of the day making up places and progressing back up the leaderboard.

Solberg said: ''We were having some problems with the brakes in left-hand corners. On the first stage this morning this caused us to spin and hit the bank. The roll came in a slow fourth gear corner. We got out and then the spectators came and we got it back on the wheels.''

Makinen added: ''On the first loop of stages, everything was good. The car, and especially the new suspension, felt fine. Then we couldn't get a gear at the start of the eighth stage. Eventually we managed to get second gear, but we dropped so much time going through the stages at that speed. Now we're just going to keep going and see what we can do, see if we can make any points.''

Hyundai's Freddy Loix retired his Accent WRC3 after the sixth stage with engine problems. Armin Schwarz's car ran without any mechanical problems.

Loix's car cut out half way through the SS6. Initial thoughts were of a water-related problem, because the car had just come through a water splash, but it was discovered to be an electrical fault. Schwarz maintained his early top ten placing, despite problems with the car's shock absorbers and being forced to drive with his door open for three kilometres following a watersplash in SS5.

Schwarz said: ''We found the limits of the shock absorbers at shakedown yesterday. Now we are driving within those limits, which means we are having to take it steady in places. The door opening was a strange one, I've no idea how it happened, but I struggled for a while with dust and water coming in before I was able to get it shut again.''

Team boss David Whitehead noted: ''Loix car's problem was with the boost pressure sensor, which appears to have broken up and stopped communicating with the engine management system. The engine overheated, went on to a default setting and eventually stopped. After a long discussion over the radio, Freddy got the car started again - but they had dropped 27 minutes.''

Toni Gardemeister's Skoda Octavia WRC suffered a broken track control arm on SS5 today. Didier Auriol felt the car's suspension wasn't working right for the morning stages, otherwise it was reliable.

Following the implementation of a 60-second penalty, Gardemeister's rally went further downhill on the opening loop of three stages when he clouted a rock and damaged the steering. Gardemeister admitted he had struggled with the size of the Octavia on some of the day's narrower stages. Auriol suffered suspension trouble early in the day.

Auriol said: ''The car has been hard to drive. It's quite strange because at the test it felt very good, there were no problems.''

Gardemeister added: ''Starting this morning with the 60-second penalty was not very nice, but the first stage was okay. On the second stage this morning we hit a stone which knocked the tracking out and made the car hard to handle in the fast sections.''

Of the other entries Toshi Arai leads the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship standings in his Subaru Impreza, the Japanese driver is comfortably ahead of the reigning Junior World Rally Championship champion Dani Sola, who is enjoying his best run yet in his Mitsubishi Lancer.

Ford Focus RS WRC driver Antony Warmbold is the leading non-factory driver in 13th place, with local driver Gabriel Raies's challenge falling away in his Toyota Corolla WRC.



Rally statistics:

Starters: 78 crews (31 Group A and 47 Group N) started this morning.

Retirements: Loix (B), McRae (GB) and 28 other drivers.

Today - Friday 9 May: Leg 1 restarted from Carlos Paz at 06h25 and covered 572.53km, including 169.10km on 11 stages. The first car arrived back in Carlos Paz at 20h43.

Tomorrow - Saturday 10 May: Leg 2 starts from Carlos Paz at 06h55 and covers 552.89km, including 153.90km on nine stages. The first car is expected to arrive back in Carlos Paz at 20h22.

Weather forecast: Overcast early in the morning, sunny in the afternoon.


Stage by stage summary - Leg 1:

SS1 Super Special Pro-Racing 1 (3.02kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2m 09.7
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 2m 11.0
3. McRae (GB) Citroen 2m 11.4

SS2 Super Special Pro-Racing 2 (3.02kms):
1. Burns (GB) Peugeot 2m 09.4
2. Sainz (E) Citroen 2m 10.3
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 2m 10.5

Leaders after SS2:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 4m 20.2
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 4m 22.5
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 4m 23.0

SS3 El Reposo-Los Sauces 1 (10.03kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 5m 44.9
2. Martin (EE) Ford 5m 48.0
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 5m 48.3

Leaders after SS3:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 10m 05.1
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 10m 10.8
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 10m 12.6

SS4 Canada de Rio Pinto-Villa Albertina 1 (10.91kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 7m 43.4
2. Burns (GB) Peugeot 7m 46.5
3. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 7m 46.6

Leaders after SS4:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 17m 48.5
2. Solberg (N) Subaru 17m 57.9
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 18m 00.6

SS5 Villa Albertina-Ischilin 1 (15.17kms):
1. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 8m 54.5
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 8m 54.7
2. Martin (E) Ford 8m 57.7
4. Burns (GB) Peugeot 8m 58.8

Leaders after SS5:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 26m 43.2
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 26m 57.9
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 26m 59.6

SS6 Museo Fader-Ongamira 1 (18.49kms):
1. Sainz (E) Citroen 10m 12.7
2. Martin (EE) Ford 10m 14.2
3. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 10m 14.9

Leaders after SS6:
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 36m 58.1
2. Sainz (E) Citroen 37m 13.0
3. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 37m 13.4

SS7 La Falda-Villa Giardino 1 (9.37kms):
1. Sainz (E) Citroen 6m 25.1
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 6m 27.6
3. Martin (EE) Ford 6m 29.3

Leaders after SS7:
1. Sainz (E) Citroen 43m 38.1
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 43m 43.1
3. Martin (EE) Ford 43m 46.1

SS8 La Cumbre-Agua de Oro 1 (21.70kms):
1. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 18m 47.6
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 18m 50.0
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 18m 50.9

Leaders after SS8:
1. Sainz (FIN) Peugeot 1h 02m 35.6
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 1h 02m 36.4
3. Martin (EE) Ford 1h 02m 39.8

SS9 Ascochinga-La Cumbre 1 (28.83kms):
1. Sainz (E) Citroen 19m 07.4
2. Loeb (F) Citroen 19m 07.6
3. Solberg (N) Subaru 19m 10.0

Leaders after SS9:
1. Sainz (E) Citroen 1h 21m 43.0
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 1h 22m 14.3
3. Loeb (F) Citroen 1h 22m 16.2

SS10 El Reposo-Los Sauces 2 (10.03kms):
1. Martin (EE) Ford 5m 38.4
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 5m 40.0
3. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 5m 43.7

Leaders after SS10:
1. Sainz (E) Citroen 1h 27m 27.9
2. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot 1h 27m 58.0
3. Martin (EE) Ford 1h 27m 58.7

SS11 Canada de Rio Pinto-Villa Albertina 2 (10.91kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 7m 38.2
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 7m 41.1
3. Martin (EE) Ford 7m 42.3

Leaders after SS11:
1. Sainz (E) Citroen 1h 35m 13.6
2. Martin (EE) Ford 1h 35m 41.0
3. Loeb (F) Citroen 1h 35m 45.0

SS12 Villa Albertina-Ischilin 2 (15.17kms):
1. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 8m 47.5
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 8m 51.5
3. Martin (EE) Ford 8m 53.0

Leaders after SS12:
1. Sainz (E) Citroen 1h 44m 09.6
2. Martin (EE) Ford 1h 44m 34.0
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot 1h 44m 44.3

SS13 Museo Fader-Ongamira 2 (18.49kms):
1. Martin (EE) Ford 9m 49.6
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 9m 51.3
3. Sainz (E) Citroen 9m 51.6

Leaders after SS13 / Leg 1:
1. Sainz (E) Citroen 1h 54m 01.2
2. Martin (EE) Ford +22.4
3. Burns (GB) Peugeot +40.1
4. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot +41.8
5. Loeb (F) Citroen +50.2
6. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot +1m 24.3
7. Duval (B) Ford +2m 38.3
8. Solberg (N) Subaru +2m 43.3
9. Schwarz (D) Hyundai +3m 03.0
10. Auriol (F) Skoda +3m 06.8




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