The first three stages of Rally Argentina certainly provided their fair share of incidents. Mikko Hirvonen is the highest placed Citroën driver in second, 20.1s behind Petter Solberg. Sébastien Loeb lies fourth, 34.8s adrift of the leader.
Held on a gravel track near to Villa Carlo Paz, Thursday evening’s first stage was not a particularly enjoyable experience for Citroën Total World Rally Team’s drivers. The decision to fit hard tyres, unlike their main rivals, did not pay off for Sébastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen, who lost 10.2s and 13.3s respectively to Petter Solberg.
After stopping off at the service park at 5.45am this morning, the competitors headed for Ascochinga to complete a loop of two long stages: La Pampa/La Pampa (37.51km) and Ascochinga/Agua de Oro (51.88km). Despite the lack of rain, all the leading drivers opted to run on soft Michelin Latitude Cross tyres.
Despite spinning on a hairpin, Sébastien Loeb set the fastest time on SS2, ahead of Petter Solberg (+1.9s) and Mikko Hirvonen (+5.2s). Thierry Neuville clocked the 6th fastest time, whilst Nasser Al-Attiyah lost two minutes: “My neck is really sore and I lost concentration. I made a mistake and I’m worried that I may have damaged the car a little.”
In the next stage, Sébastien Loeb was setting the pace until the halfway point of the stage. In the twisty section following La Cumbre, the eight-time World Champion spun his car twice. He lost 26.5s to Petter Solberg in the process: “I only lost a few seconds on the first spin. After the second spin, however, I had to manoeuvre the car a few times before I could get away again. There was quite a lot of oversteer when I exited tight bends, which made it very hard to keep the car on the road. We’ll have to adjust the set-up in the next service period.”
Mikko Hirvonen finished second on SS3, taking him up into second overall, 20.1s behind Solberg: “The car is working well, but I’m not totally happy with the set-up. It’s good in the quick sections, but I’ve got too much oversteer in the twisty sections. The road conditions weren’t as bad as we thought they would be, but there was still a bit of ice on some of the corners on SS3!”
Thierry Neuville currently lies in a superb fifth place despite also spinning in a watersplash at the end of SS3. The Citroën Junior World Rally Team driver trails the leader by 38s. Nasser Al-Attiyah is back in eighth place, almost four minutes off the pace, the Qatari’s minor impact on SS2 having adversely affected the handling of his DS3 WRC.