Loeb in seventh heaven
Sebastien Loeb has made it seven wins in succession on Philips Rally Argentina to extend his lead at the top of the FIA World Rally Championship powered by Nokia.
Co-driven by Daniel Elena, the 38-year-old Frenchman defeated Citroen Total team-mate Mikko Hirvonen in a formation finish.
Stand-in Ford driver Dani Sordo was set for the final podium spot but hit trouble on the very last run, the Power Stage Amarok Copina, with a suspected broken alternator belt on his Fiesta. The Spaniard’s misfortune handed third position to Mads Ostberg of the Adapta World Rally Team.
In the battle for Production Car World Rally Championship honours, Benito Guerra took victory ahead of Peruvian Nicolas Fuchs and Ukrainian Valeriy Gorban. Guerra now heads the PWRC drivers’ standings.
Loeb’s success out front was his third in the WRC this season following wins in Monte-Carlo and Mexico, and his 70th at world level. It came after the longest world championship rally in recent seasons with crews negotiating a taxing 502.73 competitive route on spectacular gravel roads around Villa Carlos Paz near Cordoba.
“Another victory here in Argentina it’s incredible for me and especially after Portugal it was important for the team to react like this,” said Loeb, whose Citroen DS3 WRC ran on Michelin tyres. “It has been a great rally here with Mikko finishing second.”
With Hirvonen under orders to hold position, Loeb spent Sunday’s closing six stages preserving his tyres and his advantage out front, while Hirvonen was happy to be back on the podium following his exclusion from Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
“It’s been a good rally and I really love the long distance,” said Hirvonen. “They are such fantastic stages here.”
Behind the ultra-consisent Mads Ostberg, who overcame handling issues during the final day, Martin Prokop took a career-best fourth with Thierry Neuville also securing a personal best for the Citroen Junior World Rally Team. Prokop’s final placing was the best result so far in the WRC for the DMACK tyre firm.
Andreas Mikkelsen’s bid for a top-six finished ended when his Skoda suffered a front-right suspension failure on stage 15. He had been locked in a close battle with Volkswagen Motorsport team-mate Sebastien Ogier at the time. Ogier finished seventh behind the recovering Petter Solberg with Evgeny Novikov eighth.
Ford driver Solberg made amends for his exit on Friday’s fourth stage with a broken steering arm by winning the event-closing Power Stage, his sixth fastest time of day three. Although it did little to cheer the dejected Ford team following Sordo’s late exit on his one-off drive in place of the injured Jari-Matti Latvala, by reaching the finish Solberg has extended Ford’s point-scoring run to 150 rallies.
Nasser Al-Attiyah restarted under Rally 2 rules and finished in ninth position in his Qatar World Rally Team Citroen, securing the final Power Stage point in the process.
Paulo Nobre also returned on Sunday following his exit on Saturday morning but failed to get through stage 17, which also spelt the end of fellow WRC Team MINI Portugal driver Armindo Araujo’s challenge with broken steering.
Ott Tanak, who ran first on the road for the final two days, finished 10th with PWRC winner Guerra coming home 11th in his Mitsubishi Lancer. Ex-Formula One racer Eliseo Salazar rounded out his WRC debut by reaching the finish in a fine 12th position at the wheel of a Prodrive-run MINI.
Sunday PWRC wrap: Double joy for Guerra
Benito Guerra has moved into the lead of the Production Car World Rally Championship drivers' standings with his second victory of the season on Philips Rally Argentina.
The Mexican set out with the intention of avoiding taking any big risks in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. While he and co-driver Borja Rozada were not always the fastest combination, their consistency ensured maximum points in the showroom division.
“I’m really, really happy with my second win and my first victory outside of Mexico,” said Guerra. “There were several times when I felt I needed to race to be faster but not in Argentina. I had to be very calm to keep the car in one piece for the long, long days. I did this and now with two wins I am the leader of the championship and can dream of being world champion.”
Overnight leader Nicolas Fuchs fell to second following a torrid run through Sunday’s opening 65.74-kilometre test when his Lancer was struck down by turbo, brake and clutch problems, the latter causing trouble during the closing stages as well.
“I tried to repair the car but I don’t know what happened,” said the Peruvian, who secured the runner-up spot.
Valeriy Gorban finished third for the Mentos Ascania Racing team despite fears of a gearbox leak on the final morning.
Next: Round 6 WRC Acropolis (Greece) 25 - 27 May
Searing ambient temperatures, rocky, undulating roads and dust combine to make the Acropolis Rally one of the most taxing on the World Rally Championship calendar with car and driver subjected to a particularly stern test.
Greece returned to the WRC schedule in 2011 after missing out in 2010 when its absence was keenly felt, not just by the fans that descend on the event in great number, but also by the drivers. The Acropolis is one of the most iconic events in the sport and winning it earns significant kudos.
Official Website: acropolisrally.gr/EN/