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GP Week : Issue 119
WRC NEWS >> Was Sebastien Loeb the rightful winner in Argentina this year? Increasingly it seems that maybe it should have been Mikko Hirvonen! Reacting to a protest from the Ford team the Stewards confirmed that there was confusion over which route competitors had to take around the roundabout in the middle of Stage 7, but the Stewards were not called upon to change the declared results of the rally. Discovering what had gone wrong, then deciding who was at fault was complex, and dealing with other associated aspects the Stewards did not avail themselves of the facilities in the result system to ensure that appropriate corrections to times were made. The whole problem was unwelcome. It only happened because the FIA likes mixed surfaced stages on events, and that this stage was one of the few available locations in the route of Rally Argentina where the FIA's wishes could be accommodated. But for that the ‘Roundabout Affair’ would never have happened. This was the scene: a) The organisers wanted competitors in recce to utilise the mid-stage roundabout in an anti-clockwise sense, the longer way round, to accord with normal open road traffic patterns. Ford assumed this directive continued into the rally itself; Citroen believed it was only for recce. Citroen drivers went one route, on one stage, during the rally and won; Ford drivers went the other way and did not. b) Marker tapes were erected by marshals at the scene, unaware that by agreement between the teams and the organisers a choice was offered to the crews to take whichever route they wanted, though the short-cut was clearly preferable. On the first passage (Stage 4), the Citroen crews saw the tape and, unexpectedly, had to take the longer route round the roundabout. Prior to the second run (Stage 7) the FIA Safety Delegate spotted the tapes blanking the short-cut route, realised there was a misunderstanding and removed them before leaving the scene. When the Police at the corner saw the Citroens short-cut the corner, they re- erected the tape. Citroen personnel sited at the corner had been watching what was happening and informed their crews that it was safe the second time through the stage to short-cut the corner. Ford crews, however, believed the route would be unchanged from the morning and their crews followed the same route as before. c) On the Sunday morning, after eventually receiving an unconvincing opinion from the organizers about this problem, Ford protested to the Stewards that there had been genuine confusion. This was before the finish, when the significance of the eventual results would become evident. The Stewards only considered the protest after the finish, when they declared that the confusion was as a result of a lack of written clarification by organisers about the route round the roundabout. The protest from Ford did not include a request for an adjustment in the times on the stage, so no change in the results was made. This was unfortunate, as under the split timing system it was immediately possible to spot how much time was gained by taking a short cut and correct any anomaly. In fact, the splits show that Loeb at this point gained 5.5 seconds, Ogier 3.8 and Solberg 3.0, compared with their times on the earlier passage. Hirvonen's time through the sector was the same both times while Latvala was 0.6 second faster second time through. Loeb eventually beat Hirvonen by 2.4 seconds. The whole episode was extremely regrettable on three counts. (1) For Ford, who did not specifically challenge the correctness of the stage times and lost the chance to claim a victory which by rights was theirs. (2) For the sport, because it made the Stewards appear to think it was more important publicly to punish the organisers rather than ensure that the rally was fairly won and lost. (3) And for the health of the championship, which sees the Citroen team gain more strength in their standing. The lingering doubt concerns why Ford did not ask for the results to be changed and why the Stewards of their own initiative did not take steps to proclaim a fairer result. And based on all that, it seems the wrong man won. The Wrong Man Won? MArtin HolMes rallies editor opinion