Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala has taken a confidence boosting victory on Rally Argentina successfully beating team-mate and defending WRC champion, Sebastien Ogier.
Latvala came into the fifth round in the 2014 World Rally Championship looking for a boost after crashing out in Portugal last month and that's exactly what he got.
The Finn took the lead in SS3 on Friday and while he slipped back to second in SS4 in the afternoon, he went back in front in SS5, concluding the opening leg, which claimed five works drivers, with a 17.7 second advantage.
Saturday saw the fight continue between the two VW pilots, with Jari-Matti stretching his lead to 21.2 seconds in the morning. He then pulled further ahead on the second runs and had a comfortable 31.2 second margin at the start of the final day. That proved sufficient and with Ogier opting to settle for second this morning, when thick fog descended, Latvala swept through and eventually came out top by almost 1.5 minutes.
It was a top performance from the 29-year-old and one that helps keep his championship hopes alive, as he now cuts the gap to Ogier from 29 points to 24 with eight more rounds remaining.
“It's been a fantastic week. This rally has not been easy for me in the past and it is something special to win it,” Latvala stated. “Everything has come together. We did lots of things with my engineer and the mechanics. When you work so well, and do the right things, it finally comes.”
“Mentally it was important for me [to do well], because after Portugal my self-confidence was a little down,” he added.
“This result [also] helps keep the championship alive.”
Ogier meanwhile was philosophical after having to settle for the runners-up spot, although he helped to minimise the damage by taking the maximum three bonus points for winning the Power Stage. The Frenchman was 10 seconds up on Mikko Hirvonen in second, while Latvala was third through El Condor-Copina 2.
“You cannot win all the time and this proves you have to fight to win. I have no problem with Jari's position. Jari-Matti deserves it,” Ogier noted. “It is not a bad weekend for my championship either [and we only conceded 5 points].”
Citroen's Kris Meeke took the final spot on the podium and despite finishing almost 4.5 minutes off Ogier - and almost 6 minutes off Latvala – he was very happy to take his second top-three in the WRC.
“I'm not known for driving slowly to protect my position but here I did,” said the Brit. “It is fantastic to get on the podium again and we got good points for the team. This result is for them because after Portugal they really put a lot of faith in me.”
Behind, Volkswagen Motorsport II pilot Andreas Mikkelsen came in fourth recovering well after a faulty alternator belt sidelined him in the final stage on Friday. Re-starting under Rally 2 the next day he soon climbed back up from P7 to P4 and at the finish was just 23.6 seconds shy of Meeke. He also had another alternator scare following the final stage, but made it back to service okay.
Hyundai's Thierry Neuville completed the top-five, and like Mikkelsen he rejoined on Saturday after mechanical issues forced him out in SS5 on Friday. Neuville had to contend with a transmission problem over the final two tests, but had more than enough in hand to claim fifth.
“That was unlucky, I was trying to set a good time, but then I broke the transmission. A driveshaft, I think, so we only had two-wheel drive [for the final few tests],” he confirmed. “Overall though, we have done our job and we must be pleased with that. We need to work on the reliability.”
Former Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica took sixth and with it his first drivers' points of the season. The Pole put in a mature drive in his M-Sport-run Fiesta RS WRC and despite pressure on the final day, when team-mate Elfyn Evans closed, he saw off the Welshman and was actually fifth fastest in the final test.
“I'm very pleased. This was a very difficult rally. Conditions were extreme sometimes but we managed to get to the finish and finally get some points,” Kubica remarked.
“Learning was the target here,” Evans explained. “We were always going to do our own thing. We weren't going to change that [despite what happened today]. I wasn't going to chance it [and get sucked into a fight].”
Further back, Martin Prokop took eighth in his Jipocar Czech National Team Fiesta RS WRC, ahead of Mikko Hirvonen and WRC2 winner, Nasser Al-Attiyah.
Hirvonen crashed out in the first test on Friday, but clawed his way back from 18th to take two championship points, winning three of the four tests on the final day.
In WRC2, as mentioned, Al-Attiyah took the class victory again in his Ford Fiesta RRC, more than 5 minutes up on Nicolas Fuchs. Diego Dominguez completed the WRC2 podium, ahead of Lorenzo Bertelli and Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari.
As for retirements, Dani Sordo and Mads Ostberg were the two big casualties. Sordo had a number of technical problems on the opening day and was eventually forced out in SS5. He then re-started on Saturday, but went out again in SS6 after hitting a ditch hard, which caused irreparable damage to his Hyundai i20 WRC.
Ostberg also had a difficult event and binned his Citroen DS3 WRC in SS2 on Friday - the same test as Hirvonen went out on. The Norwegian then re-joined under Rally 2, but had to withdraw today after he injured his right-hand on Saturday.
The 2014 FIA World Rally Championship now heads to Sardinia next for Rally Italia Sardegna with that event running from June 5-6.
To view the result for Rally Argentina 2014 - CLICK HERE