World Rally Championship points leader Thierry Neuville moved to the front of Rally Argentina’s overall standings aboard his Hyundai i20 WRC after Friday’s two loops of stages. The Belgian and Citroën’s Sébastien Ogier, second placed, were aided by a late spin of Toyota’s Ott Tänak, who as a consequence dropped from the lead to third place in today’s final stage.
Three stages made up the Friday afternoon loop, covering a total of 69.94 competitive kilometres. After being cancelled due to the conditions of the road sections this morning, Amboy – Yacanto, the longest stage of the loop, was back on the itinerary for the second pass.
Kris Meeke had led the rally heading to midday service and was joined by Tänak in a Toyota 1-2 after the afternoon’s first stage Las Bajadas – Villa del Dique, on which the Estonian scored a stage win. But Toyota’s fortunes changed on Amboy – Yacanto: Tänak moved into the lead at the expense of Meeke, who struggled with road conditions, which he defined as cut up. The Northern Irishman dropped from first to fourth, with Neuville and Ogier moving up to second and third. Jari-Matti Latvala also lost fifth place in the third Toyota, dropping to seventh after sustaining a puncture.
It was then Tänak’s turn to lose the lead on the day’s final test, Santa Rosa – San Agustin, suffering a broken driveshaft that sent him into a spin and cost him 24.8s to Neuville. That also put him 1.5s behind Ogier, promoting the six-time World Rally champion up to second.
Meeke dropped further time to the leading trio on the final stage, finishing 28.1s adrift of Neuville. The Brit explained he had lost the third gear on his Yaris WRC halfway through Santa Rosa – San Agustin. He has now a tight advantage of 1.3s ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen in fifth, who deflected the attack of his Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo. Both gained a place in the ranking after Latvala’s puncture on Las Bajadas – Villa Del Dique. Sordo momentary took fifth place on SS7, but dropped behind both Mikkelsen and M-Sport’s Elfyn Evans after he briefly stopped on Santa Rosa – San Augustin. In this final stage, Evans clocked his first top three stage time of the rally to move into sixth place, ahead of Sordo in seventh.
Latvala finished Leg One in ninth but regained one position after a decision of rally officials. Following a crash of Esapekka Lappi, with the Citroën C3 remaining stranded on the road, Latvala was manually shown a red flag by a marshal from the side of the road. But it wasn’t a decision of the rally direction to issue a red flag and it wasn’t given to other competitors, therefore the Finn was awarded a notional time later on. M-Sport’s Ford Teemu Suninen holds ninth, 45.6s behind his fellow countryman.
Mads Ostberg has a comfortable lead in the FIA WRC 2 Pro class for Citroën Total and holds 10th overall in spite of a puncture on Amboy – Yacanto, as his nearest rival Gus Greensmith sustained broken front-left suspension on his R5-specification Ford Fiesta on Las Bajadas – Villa del Dique. That promoted Marco Bulacia Wilkinson to second place in the category, but the Bolivian is several minutes behind after stopping twice to change a puncture in the morning.
It was also a game full of surprise in the FIA WRC 2 order. Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta and Chile’s Heller brothers – Alberto and Pedro – were in a fight for the top of the leaderboard, with Katsuta and Alberto Heller trading the lead for most of the afternoon. However none of them made it to the finish - Katsuta going off with a broken wheel less than a kilometre after Lappi’s crash and Alberto Heller retiring on the liaison section before the final stage. Pedro Heller is the new leader at the end of Day One and Brazil’s Paulo Nobre is up to second, with Mexico’s Benito Guerra completing the podium places.
Saturday's leg is the longest of the rally. Competitors head into the vast pampas plains and hills of the Punilla Valley for two identical blocks of three stages. The loops are split by a repeat of Friday's theme park test in host town Carlos Paz. It adds up to 146.62km of action.
Leading positions after Friday:
1. T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 +1hr 11min 13.9sec
2. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Citroën C3 +11.9sec
3. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Toyota Yaris +13.4sec
4. K Meeke / S Marshall GBR Toyota Yaris +28.1sec
5. A Mikkelsen / A Jaeger-Amland NOR Hyundai i20 +29.4sec
6. E Evans / S Martin GBR Ford Fiesta +38.2sec