Reigning world champion, Sebastien Loeb
continued his domination of the 2005 WRC season Friday, by stamping his mark on leg 1 of the Rally Argentina.
The Frenchman was quickest through six of the legs ten stages, benefiting slightly by running first on the road as the stages became increasingly rutted as more competitors passed over them. He was also helped by overnight rain, which helped pack together the loose stones on the road and ensured conditions were not as slippery as expected for the early starters.
In the end the Citroen
ace built himself a solid 30 odd second lead over his nearest rival, Petter Solberg
and following his form in the last five events - all of which he won - he is already looking good to make it an outright record six successive wins, although around 180 competitive kilometres remain to be run over the next two days.
Whether Solberg can do can anything to stop him winning remains to be seen - and although Subaru had hoped that the cooler conditions might suit their Pirelli tyres, the shift from the hot conditions in the Mediterranean to typical mid-wintry weather in Argentina doesn't seem to have thus far had any affect on the speed of the Michelin shod Xsara WRC of Loeb.
Marcus Gronholm meanwhile is third, just 13.3 seconds off 'Hollywood' in his Peugeot 307, somewhat frustrated at not being able to match the pace of his rivals ahead.
Ford team leader, Toni Gardemeister and Mitsubishi driver, Harri Rovanpera have been battling all day for fourth, just 8 seconds separate the two overnight. Rovanpera had been third early on but dropped to sixth after a spin in SS4. He also lost further time in SS6 when his handbrake failed.
Markko Martin is sixth in the sister 307, the Estonian seemingly still struggling with his Peugeot and over 2 minutes behind his team-mate.
Francois Duval lies seventh on his return to the Citroen
line-up, after being dropped following the Cyprus Rally. The Belgian started off slow and steady, but increased his pace in the final two tests, going sixth in SS9 and joint second quickest overall in SS10. His performance in that final test was good enough for him to overhaul Manfred Stohl, who leads the privateer battle, now in eighth in his Kronos Racing Xsara WRC.
Further-down the pack, Argentine 'virgins' Chris Atkinson
and Roman Kresta are ninth and 11th respectively, Xavier Pons sandwiched between them, while the only other works driver still going is Armin Schwarz in 20th overall, after losing a fair amount of time in the final three tests with a broken damper mount.