30 April 2006
Argentina win boosts Loeb's bid to retain title.
Reigning world champion, Sebastien Loeb has further strengthened his position in the battle for this year's drivers' championship, following his victory on the Rally Argentina on Sunday, the sixth round in the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship.
The Frenchman took over the lead from his nearest championship rival, Marcus Gronholm, on the opening day when the Finn was forced out in his BP Ford Focus with transmission problems.
Furthermore while Gronholm re-started on Saturday under the SupeRally format, he had lost too much time and as such could not break back into the top eight and score any points. Loeb has therefore increased his advantage from 11 points going into the event, to 21 and although with 10 rounds still to go and 100 points up for grabs it is far from done and dusted, the Kronos driver is again looking good to win the title for the third year in a row.
Indeed he didn't have any major problems during the event, a spin on SS3 cost him some time and a few other minor errors slowed him slightly, but in reality, once Gronholm had dropped back he never looked likely to be overhauled and by the mid-day service on Saturday he had increased his lead over Petter Solberg from 20 seconds at the end of leg 1 to nearly a minute. Although the Norwegian cut that gap back during the second loop on Saturday, Loeb was just pacing himself to the finish and eventually took the honours by around 45 seconds.
It was his second successive win in Argentina and his fourth of the season, after also having won on the previous events in Corsica, Spain and Mexico. The result also helped extend Kronos' lead over BP Ford in the manufacturers', from 3 points to 12.
Petter meanwhile had to make do with the runners-up spot in his Subaru Impreza and while he will be no doubt disappointed that he couldn't match Loeb, after his season to date and particularly the two rounds on asphalt that preceded this weekend's event, he will have been pleased to have been back at the sharp end. Solberg managed to win six tests during the event and if it wasn't for a 10 second penalty on day one and a poor tyre choice on the first loop on day two, it may have been a different story...
Former Mitsubishi works driver, Gigi Galli completed the podium to take his first ever top-three finish in the WRC. The Italian was consistent throughout the event and third was a just result for him on what was only his second event with the Pirelli backed Peugeot 307 and his first with the Bozian ran car on gravel.
Fourth place went to Manfred Stohl, who was making his 100th appearance in the WRC. The Austrian went into the final leg behind his OMV Peugeot Norway WRT team-mate, Henning Solberg, but used his knowledge of the Argentinean stages to good affect over the final two 'proper' tests and pulled out a minute on the Norwegian.
Henning slipped further down the order in the final tests though, when his clutch failed on the second 2.20 kilometre super special. As a result Daniel Sordo and Chris Atkinson both moved up a place to fifth and sixth, the latter unable to overhaul his Spanish rival despite the fact just 0.1 seconds separated the two going into the final two super-specials. Sordo ended up 3.6 seconds in front, leaving Atkinson to rue his one minute penalty at the end of leg two, for speeding in the service park.
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