Citroën drivers tango for top spot in Argentina

Rally Argentina Friday  Day 1

With over 200 kilometres of timed stages, the first leg of Rally Argentina looked set to be a particularly difficult test, and that’s exactly what it turned out to be! Gradually improving as the day wore on, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena grabbed the overall lead three quarters of the way through the first leg.

Citroën Total World Rally Team enjoyed an excellent day’s work, as Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lie second, just a tenth behind their team-mates.The rally got underway on Thursday evening with a first run on the Villa Carlos Paz super special stage. Hoping to keep their quota of soft tyres for the long tests, the Citroën Total World Rally Team drivers fitted hard Michelin Latitude Cross tyres on their cars. This choice didn’t pay off, however, as Seb and Mikko finished 10 and 13s respectively adrift of the fastest time.After a short night, the rally resumed with the service period scheduled for 5.45am. The morning’s action centred on two long stages: La Pampa/La Pampa (37.51km) and Ascochinga/Agua de Oro (51.88km). Anticipating wet conditions, all of the crews chose to fit soft tyres. In the end, there was no rain or fog, but this remained the right option according to the drivers.Despite spinning, Sébastien Loeb set the fastest time on SS2. On the next stage, the eight-time World Champion lost 26s: “I span the car again; twice, in fact! The second time, I had to manoeuvre the car a few times before I could get away again. Overall, I had to fight with the handling of the car; there was too much oversteer in the tight bends. We are going to go back to the previous set-up.”Second, 20s behind Solberg, Mikko Hirvonen also felt the handling of the DS3 WRC could be improved: “The car is working well, but we can do better. Personally, it’s the understeer which is bothering me in the twisty sections.”The service period was clearly beneficial for Sébastien Loeb: on the second loop, still run on soft tyres, he was unbeatable and moved top of the overall standings after adding another two stage wins: “I was more confident this afternoon. I was able to push again, whilst remaining cautious on the hairpins. My job was made easier by Solberg’s error. I didn’t think I would make up the time so quickly.” After briefly holding the lead after SS4, Mikko Hirvonen fell back to second position, this time 1.1s behind his team-mate: “I don’t think we changed the set-up in the right way; I have the impression that I was less comfortable than this morning. The situation is still positive, as the two Citroëns are now at the front.”This mammoth day ended with a single run on the Cosquin/Villa Allende test. On his favourite Rally Argentina stage, Mikko Hirvonen grabbed his first stage win of the weekend. In finishing one second ahead of Sébastien Loeb, he closed the gap in the overall standings to just 1/10th: “Ending such a long day with the smallest possible gap, it’s totally crazy! I love this stage and this time, I felt totally comfortable in the DS3 WRC.”“It has been an incredibly long day, but the two remaining legs look set to be just as demanding,” sighed Sébastien Loeb. “We’re not clear of our rivals as yet, because Dani Sordo is only thirty seconds or so off the pace. We’ll have to keep pushing tomorrow!”NASSER AL-ATTIYAH IN THE TOP 5Extremely popular with the Argentinean crowds after their win here in the 2011 Dakar Rally, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini hold fifth place in the overall standings this evening. It was far from plain sailing, however, for the Qatari, who lost over two minutes on SS2: “My neck was really sore and I lost concentration. I made a mistake and we damaged the car a little after a minor impact. I lost another minute on SS3, but we were still in the race! I was more cautious for the rest of the day and that paid off, as we managed to climb up to fifth place. I have a chance of getting a good result here!”NEUVILLE TO REJOIN UNDER RALLY2 RULESAfter making a great start to the rally, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul were forced to retire on SS5: “I had too much speed coming into a bend and the car was thrown into a roll after hitting the embankment. We managed to get going again after the car landed on its wheels, but we had no brakes so we had no choice but to stop.” The Citroën Junior World Rally Team crew is expected to rejoin the rally Saturday under Rally2 regulations.