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GP Week : Issue 118
This was an amazing rally. For two whole days after Sebastien Loeb received a one minute penalty, for a time control mistake, the seven times world champion said that he now had no hope of winning. And until three short stages from the end, he didn't – but then his teammate Sebastien Ogier, who was leading the rally, went off the road and damaged his power steering, and on the final stage Loeb jumped up to victory. For more than half the rally Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala had held the challenging Citroens at bay, not only Loeb and Ogier but also Petter Solberg as well. But a suspension failure denied Latvala his hopes of victory, though his team-mate Mikko Hirvonen came through to take second place. It was thrilling. Only 5.7 seconds separated the top three drivers at the start of the final stage of Rally Argentina and so, on the final stage, it wasn't simply a few extra world championship points offered by the Power Stage at stake, it was outright victory itself. Loeb's dramas started at midday on the first full day when he made an uncharacteristic mistake, checking in one minute too early, and incurring his unwanted penalty. By the second afternoon the rally was heading without him toward a fantastic finale, with Ogier and Latvala each eyeing the chance of victory with outsiders Petter Solberg and Loeb knowing that with one slip, the victory could go to any one of them. Then it suddenly changed. About four kilometres from the end of Stage 13, Latvala noticed the car was pulling badly to the right under braking: “It was OK in corners and when accelerating but not under braking, so I had to ease off. We jacked up the car and found the suspension link was broken. We used straps to hold it together but unfortunately, the repairs lasted only four kilometres into the next stage. I think that I must have hit a rock or the bedrock in a rut earlier in the stage which damaged the link." Catastrophe for Latvala, and a real blow to the hopes of an exciting battle in the championship. Latvala's departure allowed alternative scenarios to open up, as works driver Ogier found himself battling with Citroen privateer Petter Solberg, and a nightmare tactical decision was waiting to be made. Should Ogier protect himself against the risk of starting Day 3 first car on the road? Then it was Solberg's turn for misfortune to strike. The power steering failed and Ogier found himself at the end of the day with an apparently unassailable lead of 43.7 seconds, this time ahead of Hirvonen. Ogier need only cruise to the end. Loeb meanwhile was on another mission. He was just four seconds behind Hirvonen, with second place in his sights, undeserved compensation for the seemingly disastrous error earlier. So now it was all down to the final day... Ogier had the rally in his pocket as he headed for the first stage, the final difficult stage to tackle, followed by only three short stages. But two kilometres from the end of the first stage, having survived fog on the earlier stretches, he rolled. Ogier reached the end of the stage, his lead halved while Loeb meanwhile had caught and passed Hirvonen.