Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio delivered an outstanding debut drive for Ford World Rally Team yesterday to hold third after the opening leg of Rally Argentina. The Spanish duo, drafted into the line-up for the injured Jari-Matti Latvala, never put a foot wrong after just a day’s testing in a Fiesta RS World Rally Car to head Ford’s challenge in this fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.Team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson led for the opening half of the marathon 204km leg. However, having built a 20sec advantage in their Fiesta RS World Rally Car, they retired after an impact with a rock damaged a steering arm. They will restart under Rally 2 regulations tomorrow.The key word for this longest world rally for almost a decade is endurance, and the leg quickly turned into one of attrition. Many top drivers hit trouble during the six speed tests, which included two passes over the rocky 51.88km special stage from Ascochinga to Agua de Oro, north of the rally base in Carlos Paz. After an hour’s delay this morning, drivers spent more than 15 hours in competition.Solberg and Sordo gave Ford a one-two overnight advantage after last night’s short curtain-raising test on the edge of Carlos Paz, 700km north-west of Buenos Aires. Solberg was second in this morning’s opening stage and won the daunting Ascochinga test to build a 20.1sec lead. Sordo took no risks as he began to learn the Fiesta RS WRC and settled into third.As Solberg hit trouble in the afternoon’s opening stage, Sordo remained a model of consistency and was second fastest in the second pass through Ascochinga. Having used Michelin’s soft compound tyres all day in the cool temperatures, the 28-year-old Spaniard elected to switch to the harder compound for the final shorter test, to preserve his allocation of soft rubber for tomorrow. He dropped 20sec to end the day 33.1sec from the lead.“I enjoyed my first experience in the Fiesta,” said Sordo. “The more kilometres I drive in the car, the more comfortable I feel. I’m learning all the time. This isn’t the easiest rally in which to learn a new car and I could drive faster, but that means taking more risks, and that increases the risk of going off the road. I’m pleased with my consistency and I’ll continue driving the way I have been.
“In places conditions were slippery and in others there was good grip. Tonight we decided to use the harder compound tyres to save the softer rubber for tomorrow, when it could be wet. We knew we would lose time as the traction wasn’t as good with the hard compound, but we hope to benefit later in the rally,” he added.Solberg will restart in 11th position with a 15 minute penalty for failing to complete the final three stages. The 37-year-old Norwegian outlined the chain of incidents which led to his retirement.
“I was driving in the ruts when the sump guard under the car touched some exposed bedrock and the impact bent the left steering arm,” he explained. “I continued at normal pace for another 10km until the arm snapped in mid-air at a sixth gear crest about 6km from the finish. The car went off the road when it landed and the front right hit a rock.Solberg and Patterson replaced the broken arm with a spare unit carried in the car. However, when they restarted they discovered the right steering arm broke in the second impact and they had to stop.“Obviously I’m disappointed. I had a 20sec lead, although I didn’t feel that was a comfortable margin in a rally as long as this. I fought back to third in a similar situation at the last round in Portugal, so my aim now is to climb back up the order as far as I can over the next two days,” added Solberg.Ford World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson praised Sordo’s debut drive. “Dani drove sensibly. When conditions were tricky he eased off, and when he felt confident and comfortable, he showed good pace. With Petter’s retirement we lost a great opportunity to win, which is a disappointment. Because the rally is so long, he has the chance to fight back and score good points. If Dani can maintain the pressure on the leaders then this rally can still have some twists and turns,” he said.News from other Ford teamsMads Østberg and Jonas Andersson are fourth in the Adapta World Rally Team car, despite an intercom problem this afternoon which meant Østberg had difficulty hearing the pace notes. Martin Prokop and Zdenĕk Hrůza are sixth, the Czech duo reporting no major problems. M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak and Kuldar Sikk replaced a steering arm on their Fiesta RS WRC in stage three, but their good work was in vain as they spun off the road and retired on the next test. Team-mates Evgeny Novikov and Denis Giraudet damaged the left rear suspension of their car after hitting a rock in stage two and on the following test a bolt broke in the suspension, forcing them into retirement. Brazil World Rally Team’s Daniel Oliveira and Carlos Maghaläes retired on last night’s opening stage after hitting a bank and damaging their car’s front right suspension. They returned under Rally 2 rules today and climbed to 14th.
Saturday's RouteThe second leg journeys south to the Calamuchita Valley. After leaving Carlos Paz at 06.42, drivers face two identical loops of three stages there, split by a return to the rally base for service midway through the day. The leg ends with a second pass over the short test on the edge of Carlos Paz which began the rally last night. Drivers tackle seven stages covering 166.54km before the final overnight halt at 20.58.
Leaderboard after Day 11. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen DS3 2hr 20min 30.6sec2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Citroen DS3 2hr 20min 30.7sec3. D Sordo/C del Barrio ESP Ford Fiesta RS 2hr 21min 03.7sec
4. M Østberg/J Andersson NOR Ford Fiesta RS 2hr 21min 49.0sec5. N Al Attiyah/G Bernacchini QAT Citroen DS3 2hr 25min 47.5sec6. M Prokop/Z Hrůza CZE Ford Fiesta RS 2hr 26min 54.8sec7. A Mikkelsen/O Floene NOR Skoda Fabia S2000 2hr 27min 06.6sec8. S Ogier/J Ingrassia FRA Skoda Fabia S2000 2hr 27min 29.4sec9. A Araujo/M Ramalho PRT Mini John Cooper 2hr 28min 45.1sec10 T Neuville/N Gilsoul BEL Citroen DS3 2hr 30min 43.8secStage TimesStage 1: 1. P Solberg 4min 54.9sec; 2. Sordo + 3.6; 3. Østberg + 4.8; 4= Tänak, Novikov + 5.2; 6. Neuville + 5.6.Stage 2: 1. Loeb 23min 12.5sec; 2. P Solberg + 1.9; 3. Hirvonen + 5.2; 4. Sordo + 12.8; 5. Østberg + 20.1; 6. Neuville + 20.6.
Overall: 1. P Solberg 28min 09.3sec; 2. Loeb + 8.3; 3. Sordo + 14.5; 4. Hirvonen + 16.6; 5.Østberg + 23.0; 6. Neuville + 24.3.Stage 3: 1. P Solberg 37min 50.7sec; 2. Hirvonen + 3.5; 3. Sordo + 10.1; 4. Neuville + 13.7; 5. Loeb + 26.5; 6. Østberg + 28.1.
Overall: 1. P Solberg 1hr 06min 00.0sec; 2. Hirvonen + 20.1; 3. Sordo + 24.6; 4. Loeb + 34.8; 5. Neuville + 38.0; 6. Østberg + 51.1.Stage 4: 1. Loeb 22min 56.3sec; 2. Hirvonen + 2.4; 3. Østberg + 10.3; 4. Neuville + 11.0; 5. Sordo + 15.6; 6. Al Attiyah + 54.7.
Overall: 1. Hirvonen 1hr 29min 18.8sec; 2. Loeb + 12.3; 3. Sordo + 17.7; 4. Neuville + 26.5; 5. Østberg + 38.9; 6. Mikkelsen + 3:39.3.Stage 5: 1. Loeb 37min 21.8sec; 2. Sordo + 7.7; 3. Hirvonen + 13.4; 4. Østberg + 29.7; 5. Al Attiyah + 36.3; 6. Prokop + 1:22.0.
Overall: 1. Loeb 2hr 06min 52.9sec; 2. Hirvonen + 1.1; 3. Sordo + 13.1; 4. Østberg + 56.3; 5. Al Attiyah + 4:55.6; 6. Mikkelsen + 5:43.9.Stage 6: 1. Hirvonen 13min 36.7sec; 2. Loeb + 1.0; 3. Sordo + 21.0; 4. Al Attiyah + 22.3; 5. Østberg + 23.1; 6. Prokop + 41.0.
Overall: 1. Loeb 2hr 20min 30.6sec; 2. Hirvonen + 0.1; 3. Sordo + 33.1; 4. Østberg + 1:18.4; 5. Al Attiyah + 5:16.9; 6. Prokop + 6:24.2.