Citroen's Sebastien Loeb came through to win Rally Argentina today overhauling his team-mate, Sebastien Ogier in the very final stage.
Loeb looked to be out of contention on Friday after he picked up a one minute penalty for checking into service B early. That dropped him right back and he finished the opening leg more than 1.5 minutes off Jari-Matti Latvala in P1.
One by one though his rivals had their own troubles, with Latvala and Petter Solberg both slipping back on Saturday afternoon. Latvala was forced out after damaging a front suspension link in SS13, promoting Ogier into the lead, while Solberg lost over 50 seconds in the final test when his power steering failed. Suddenly not only was Loeb up from fifth to third, but he was only four seconds off Mikko Hirvonen and well poised to claim another scalp.
Sunday provided a dramatic end to proceedings however, and in the very first test, the run through the monster 48.21 kilometre Ascochingha-Agua de Oro test, Loeb's team-mate Ogier rolled his DS3 WRC. Although the youngster could continue he had to limp through the remaining three stages with no power steering, haemorrhaging time and in the last test the inevitable happened. By now Loeb had cut Ogier's overnight lead, which was over 40 seconds, to just 3.3 and the seven-time WRC champion swept through to take his sixth win in Argentina. The result extends his lead in the drivers' championship from 7 points to 13.
“After Friday's penalty I wasn't counting on this victory. We pushed really hard to get back in contact with the front-runners and to beat Hirvonen,” Loeb reflected. “Once again the outcome was decided by a hair's breadth. It seems that Rally Argentina is my happy hunting ground!”
Hirvonen meanwhile had to be content with second, missing out on the victory by just 2.2 seconds: "I made a couple of small mistakes at the start of the [final] stage and things were so close that I knew then that victory wasn't going to be mine," Hirvonen conceded.
"Second was a good result after a hard weekend, which was a strange one also. I struggled on the asphalt sections and better driving there could have given me the win. I'm annoyed to lose by such a small margin, but the bonus points from the Power Stage were a boost.
"We received presents from some drivers and gave our own presents away to others. I fought hard and it was a great ending to the event. I love this rally because the gravel roads are fantastic and there are so many fans alongside the road that it's a great feeling. Second place brings good points, but I need to start winning rallies to improve my chances of lifting the championship."
Ogier took third, but was gutted to have made a mistake right at the end of SS16 this morning: “A stupid mistake,” he admitted. “All we had to do was to drive on to victory.