A dramatic weekend of rallying in Argentina saw the leadership of the race change hands on numerous occasions, but in the end it was a case of French persistence.
“I never thought this could happen,” said Sebastien Loeb, following his sixth victory on Rally Argentina. “After we got our one-minute penalty on Friday the target was to catch the closest driver so we pushed as hard as possible from Friday midday until the finish. We never thought this would be a win but, in the end, I’m really happy because we won by two seconds by pushing the limit all of the time.”
Loeb had been a favourite for top honours on the demanding South American rally, which featured tarmac sections for the first time this season. But he had seemingly dropped out of contention when he was handed a 60-second penalty for accidently entering the regroup zone on day one before the permitted time.
'We won by two seconds by pushing the limit'
While Loeb and his Red Bull-backed Citroen team fretted over the penalty, Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala was flying in his factory Fiesta, to the extent he recorded an average speed of 196.2kph over the final 5.94 kilometres of asphalt on the famous El Condor stage.
“I’ve had a very good feeling with the car and had absolutely no problems,” said the Finn. “I made a big attack on El Condor by lowering the car by 20 millimetres. This gave me more confidence and I was pleased with my performance. Being the first car on the road was a good position for Saturday and to be able to keep my lead.”
Although Latvala lost some ground by cleaning patches of loose surface gravel for the chasing pack, he was still in front when he entered the rally’s 13th stage.
“There were ruts and exposed rocks in the ruts and in very fast places,” said the 26-year-old. “I felt a couple of impacts, the suspension was bent and the front-left wheel was moving freely. We tried to make a repair but we retired on the next stage after four kilometres. It’s a big disappointment, it’s a feeling that’s killing you but you can’t keep that feeling. You need to find positive things and move forward, and really concentrate to take that victory somewhere else.”
With Latvala out, Loeb’s Citroen team-mate, Sebastien Ogier, took over top spot, with Citroen privateer Petter Solberg in hot pursuit. But when Solberg suffered broken power steering on Saturday’s final stage, Ogier reached the overnight halt in Villa Carlos Paz leading Mikko Hirvonen, in his works Fiesta, by 43.7s.
The rally was to take another dramatic twist, however, when Ogier rolled little more than one kilometre from the finish of Sunday’s opening stage.
'It was easy to get victory but we lost it'
“I had quite a comfortable lead, it was easy to get victory but we lost it,” said Ogier. “We had the wrong pacenote note for a big cut but there was no cut. We hit something small and rolled.”
Although Ogier was able to reach the finish, broken power steering meant his challenge was effectively over. “It was impossible to drive the car after that, impossible to conserve the lead too,” said Ogier, whose agony was compounded when Loeb – who’d passed Hirvonen for second spot on Sunday’s decisive stage – moved ahead on the rally-closing Power Stage, beating Hirvonen to victory by 2.4s, with Ogier limping home in a despondent third. “It should have been victory, I’m very disappointed,” said the former Junior World Champion.
Petter Solberg was able to gain some revenge for his delay on Friday by winning the Power Stage to add three bonus points to the 12 he scored for finishing fourth.
- Check out redbull.com's Weekend Highlights
- Sebastien Ogier's profile page
- Sebastien Loeb's profile page
- Rally Argentina event page