16 July 2004
Gronholm takes early advantage in Argentina.
Marcus Gronholm has claimed the overnight advantage on the Rally of Argentina however the Finn has been locked in an intense battle with Carlos Sainz throughout the day, the Spaniard briefly claiming the lead for Citroen after stage eight.
Back in Villa Carlos Paz tonight however, Gronholm has maintained a slim 8.4-second lead for Peugeot.
"I'm generally happy with the way things have gone," reflected the Finn at the end of the day, "although I haven't been able to relax for one moment. Things certainly aren't comfortable, and anything could still happen. I've been pushing reasonably hard without going crazy, and as this is fast enough to keep the lead my plan is to carry on like this. I've got no complaints about the car though: the team has done an excellent job."
Sainz meanwhile was equally happy to end the day 'best of the rest'.
"The car was perfect," he said. "My tyres suffered a bit in the afternoon's loop - I think I had asked for them to be cut too much. Really, it was a very good day. Interesting, even amusing because of the fight with Marcus Gronholm. This is all very positive for me, of course, but it is also good for the team. We have to continue to push, especially as Sebastien is not far behind, considering he lost quite a lot of time by being first on the road. So tomorrow, it will be 'al fondo'."
Sebastien Loeb meanwhile holds third in the second Citroën Xsara WRC while François Duval is fourth in the sole remaining registered Ford Focus.
"It's not been an enjoyable day for me but I'm in fourth place and that is a good position after the opening leg," commented Duval. "The car hasn't felt perfect but I think we can solve that tonight and I'm looking forward to driving the car tomorrow when the handling should be better. I'm going to take it easy tomorrow. There are large time gaps in front and behind me and it's important to finish in the points for Ford so I won't take any risks. The morning stages are all new to me so that's another reason for being cautious and not brave,"
Mitsubishi's Kristian Sohlberg lies fifth while Mikko Hirvonen is sixth, the Finn losing time earlier in the day when his Subaru came to a halt after a water splash in stage nine.
Harri Rovanpera has also experienced problems throughout the leg, the Peugeot driver slowed with a broken hydraulic pump all afternoon.
"These problems always seem to happen to me when there are several stages left before service," commented a frustrated Rovanpera, "The steering suddenly failed as I was turning into a corner and from then I knew it was going to be very hard work. I tried to fix the problem on the road section, but it was too complicated. Now that the car is fine again we can push hard tomorrow."
The two leading retirements of the leg include Markko Martin, who rolled end-over-end after a jump in the 16.76 kilometre Villa Giardino-La Falda stage [SS5]. The crew escaped serious injury, although both Martin and co-driver Michael Park were taken to hospital for scans and x-rays.
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