WRC »

Sainz takes lead on day one of Rally Argentina.

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.''



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