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GP Week : Issue 118
The most exciting moments of the event turned out to be the three short stages right at the end of the event. Ogier drove away from Stage 16 with a lead of 21.5 seconds with only 10 kilometres of stages to go, but his power steering had failed in the accident, and his desperate efforts to hang on to the lead as he hobbled to the finish was the centre of attention. Stage 17, his lead was down to 12.8 seconds; after stage 18 to 3.3 seconds, with only the Power Stage to go. Defeat was inevitable. Ogier dropped to third, Loeb gained surely the luckiest win of his prolific career and with Latvala finishing seventh. Ford were relieved that they gained any worthwhile points at all. From the start the four ‘big’ team drivers, Loeb and Ogier, Hirvonen and Latvala, were in a class of their own, which they shared only with Petter Solberg. The five were centre stage, but stalking them all the way was Mads Ostberg in his Stobart-entered customer specification Fiesta WRC. Once again the 23 year-old had the legs of the rest of the entry, driving a measured rally on his first attempt at this notoriously tricky event. He easily headed fellow Fiesta divers Matthew Wilson and the Argentine Federico Villagra, both of whom had wide experience of this event. Five Fords finished in the top eight but Citroen got the points which mattered ... Argentina itself might be relentlessly developing but things never seem to change in those hills, though this year there was one other special novelty – a brand new Superspecial course recently cut into the valleys in the hills beside Villa Carlos Paz. This really excited the drivers immensely and provided the chance for tens of thouands of local fans who could walk there from their homes. The big controversy of the rally, however, was the decision to run mixed surfaced stages. These might have been intended to introduce variety, though that was hardly necessary, but it also introduced new aspects of tactics, mostly relating to tyres. This was the first time Michelin's alternative soft compound tyres were supplied. Teams were worried as to what extent they would stand up to the mixed surfaces, especially on the Day 2 stages, when the same tyres had to be used on a mixed stage before three orthodox gravel stages. The FIA approved an extra tyre change point and a new realm of tactics opened up. It seemed a good idea to run deliberately worn gravel tyres, risk the punctures on the first gravel half of the stage, to gain time on the second asphalt half. Sometimes it worked, but drivers were dismayed how much gravel had been thrown by corner cutting cars on to the tarmac and denied the advantage. The normal road cleaning tactics did not arise this time. The rally was held after a long dry period with dust expected to be a major problem, with Latvala declaring he was happy to run first car on the road on Day 2 – because of the probability of dust slowing the cars behind. The organisers however short changed him by increasing the gaps between the top drivers to three minutes and the dust wasn't a problem at all. Top: Puddles were at their impressive best at Argentina ... Middle: Solberg and his tyre saving ways. Bottom: Mixed surfaces saw the drivers tackle tarmac roads with gravel setups ...