Citroen's Sebastien Loeb successfully came through the longest WRC encounter for almost ten years to claim his third win of the season today in Argentina.
Loeb, who was quickest in qualifying, made an uncharacteristic scrappy start and three spins on the opening loop on Friday left him down in fourth, 34.8 seconds off the lead. However the Frenchman fought back in the afternoon and eventually finished the day at the head of the leaderboard, albeit just 0.1 seconds up on his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen.
Loeb and Hirvonen continued to fight it out on Saturday morning and despite a 'big moment' in SS9, Seb held on returning to service with a 2.1 second cushion. However with the gap to third now 1 minute 30 seconds, Citroen told its two drivers to hold position, thereby bringing to an end the battle. After that, Loeb and Hirvonen could pace themselves to the finish and despite today's final leg including a monster 65.74 km test – the longest of the event – there was no dramas, although Mikko did close the gap to just 0.2 seconds at one point.
In the end, Loeb won by 12.5 seconds, the seventh time in succession he has taken the spoils in Argentina. The win – the 70th of his WRC career – increases his lead in the drivers' championship from just 4 points to 18.
“Another victory here in Argentina it's incredible for me and especially after Portugal it was important for the team to react like this,” Loeb told the official WRC site. “It has been a great rally.”
Hirvonen meanwhile put in a fantastic drive and really pushed his team-mate up until he was ordered to hold station. It ended a great fight, but Citroen's decision was entirely understandable, given both were so far out front.
Behind, Dani Sordo, standing in for the injured Jari-Matti Latvala, came within a whisker of taking third. Heartbreakingly though, for the Spaniard and Ford, he was forced out at the start of the Power Stage with a suspected alternator failure. A bitter blow, although he could still take comfort from a very good drive and he was right on the pace on day one, before falling back on Saturday.
Sordo's woe, bumped Mads Ostberg up to third. Ostberg, who of course claimed his maiden win last time out in Portugal (after Hirvonen was disqualified), was in the top-six throughout. He moved up to P4 on Friday afternoon and then ran in that position until Dani's drama at the end.
Martin Prokop was next up in his DMACK-tyres shod Ford Fiesta RS WRC, his best-ever finish, and he conceded the result was more than he had expected.