Loeb re-writes record books in Argentina
17 July 2005
Citroen team leader, Sebastien Loeb has won the Rally Argentina Sunday to notch up a record sixth successive win - and a record seven wins in one season.
The Frenchman was again pretty dominant throughout the three-day event, taking the lead on Friday morning, before building a 30-odd second lead going into the second day. That margin remained in tact throughout leg two and on the final day the margin of victory at the finish was 26.1 seconds.
His win though was not a mere formality and in the very wet conditions of the first two legs and again over the frozen ground on the third day, the Citroen star was forced to push to get the better of Marcus Gronholm and Petter Solberg. Loeb's only real scare came in SS7, when he came across a bull standing in the middle of the road. The Frenchman had to take to the ditch to try and avoid it, but still hit the animal with the front right corner of the Xsara. Although the damage to the car was superficial, the bull did not survive the incident.
Loeb's win means he has now increased his advantage at the top of the drivers' championship - 27 points in front of Petter Solberg. Citroen also increased their lead over Peugeot in the constructors', albeit though only by one point [from 5 to 6].
Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm meanwhile took the runners-up spot, after a promising showing in his 307 WRC. The Finn was particularly strong on Saturday, when he won four of the days' seven tests to overhaul Petter Solberg and close the gap to Loeb. Heading into the final day though Loeb was just too far ahead and as such he settled for second and the eight points that came with it.
Solberg also had to make do with a podium slot, after having lost too much time on Saturday, when he hit a bank in SS13 and then broke a brake calliper in SS15. The Norwegian ended the event 55 secs off Loeb and 30 secs off Gronholm.
Toni Gardemeister came out top in the battle with Harri Rovanpera for fourth. Although the gap was only 11 secs heading into the final day, the latter's stage win on SS19 help ensure he maintained his position for Ford although Rovanpera did reduce the margin to 5.6secs by the finish.
Markko Martin had a pretty lonely event to take sixth position in the second Peugeot, the Estonian failing to match the pace of his team-mate and ending up nearly 4 minutes behind him. Martin has still to get to grips with the Peugeot something that is beginning to frustrate team boss, Jean-Pierre Nicolas.
Francois Duval took seventh on his return to the Citroen line-up. The Belgian enjoyed a solid event and seemed to gain in confidence as the rally progressed and he and new co-driver, Sven Smeets bonded. Although Citroen had set him a target to finish in the 'big points', all in all, it was a good showing considering he was under immense pressure to finish. A DNF would probably have seen him shown the door - this time for good.
The final points scoring position went to Manfred Stohl, who was the top privateer, in his Kronos Racing OMV backed Xsara WRC.
Of the rest, Subaru upcoming star, Chris Atkinson and Xavier Pons rounded out the top ten, while 'works' drivers, Roman Kresta and Armin Schwarz came home in eleventh and 16th respectively. Kresta and Atkinson were both contesting the event for the first time and having completed all 22 of the stages, they will have gained useful experience for the future. Atkinson's ninth place also meant he took the final manufacturers' point for Subaru.
Gigi Galli was the only 'works' driver not able to complete the event. The Italian had problems on Friday with his transmission and despite re-starting Saturday, was forced to pull out again on Sunday, when he again experienced gearbox problems, this time in SS19. Despite this though, the Mitsubishi number two driver showed flashes of speed, something that will do his cause no harm whatsoever, especially with rumours linking him to a full-time job with the team in 2006.
In the Production Car WRC, Nasser Al-Attiyah took the class win, over 2 minutes up on Britain's Mark Higgins who was second, while Federico Villagra completed the podium.
Of the nine Production Car WRC crews that entered the event and eight made it to the finish, namely in addition to those already mentioned: Angelo Medeghini, Luis Rosselot, Fabio Frisiero, Gabriel Pozzo and Sebastian Beltran, in 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th respectively.
The FIA World Rally Championship now moves back to Europe in three weeks time for Rally Finland, which starts on Thursday August 4. Known to many as the 1000 Lakes Rally, the event is one of the classics of the WRC season, and is based on the smooth, flowing gravel roads around the host town of Jyvaskyla. Like Argentina, the event is a favourite for drivers and features some of the highest speeds and biggest jumps of the year.
Can anyone stop Loeb and Citroen taking their seventh win on the trot?
Stay tuned to Crash.net to find out...