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GP Week : Issue 151
Just another week's work for Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb, when everything went right.It was his seventh successive win on a world championship rally in Argentina, and the 70th victory of his WRC career. As usual misfortunes befell his rivals. Petter Solberg was leading until his Ford Fiesta crashed after hitting a rock embedded in the road and smashed the steering, forcing him to miss three stages. He pulled back to finish sixth after winning more stages than everyone else put together. His ad-hoc teammate Dani Sordo retired from third place with electrical trouble on the final stage. And just at the right moment, when Loeb was being challenged for the lead by his teammate Mikko Hirvonen who was just 2.1 seconds behind, the team issued ‘stay-put’ orders. Loeb had won once again. Other highlights were a second win this year in PCWRC for the Mexican Benito Guerra; yet another podium for the incredible Mads Ostberg in his worn-out Fiesta, fourth place for DMack tyres and for Martin Prokop; and a fantastic battle between the two VW Skoda drivers Sebastien Ogier and Andreas Mikkelsen which continued into the final day until Mikkelsen’s suspension collapsed. Once again the Ford rally team went home disappointed. With the new gear ratios introduced in Portugal the cars were now hyper-competitive. Dani Sordo seemed such a great substitute driver for the injured Jari-Matti Latvala and Solberg showed sizzling form. Ultimately, their only glimmer of delight was achieving the amazing record of 150 successive world championship rallies in which they scored manufacturer points. The Citroens, however, outdistanced the Fords and strolled home 1-2 and made the dream of a closely fought 2012 championship an even more remote dream. As for the FIA’s much vaunted endurance factor, the rally tailed off as the kilometres went by, Loeb dismissing the challenge of a so-called new style endurance rally. He was asked if he would look for ward to more endurance events, and all he said was "no" ... Certainly the drivers started off like this was a normal shorter event, and true to Argentine form the tricky and unexpected hazards caught out most of the drivers one after the other. Once Petter Solberg had found the rock in the road on Stage 4 and then Dani Sordo chose unsuitable tyres on the second morning the Ford challenge was spent. Citroen however did not have everything their way. Sebastien Loeb also found a rock in the road which impacted the sump shield with such force it nearly threw the car off the road. It was an uncustomary and unwelcome shock, not just for Loeb but also for the team, who suddenly realised their drivers’ close fought battle for the lead was not such a good idea. At rally half distance a stay-put order was issued, when Loeb was just 2.1 seconds in front of his teammate. The rally settled down to running order for Car 1 (Loeb), Car 2 (Hirvonen) and Car 3 (Sordo). The second half of the event therefore focussed on two other fronts – the efforts of Solberg to overcome the time penalties incurred by missing three stages on the Friday and the consistent speed not only of the two leading Citroen drivers but also of the two non-championship VW team Skoda cars driven by Sebastien Ogier and this time Andreas Mikkelsen. Ford’s management thought Solberg (lying 11th at midday on Saturday) could rise up to fifth, and for a long time that seemed optimistic but in fact fifth place among finishers eligible for Makes championship points was the Nor wegian’s final resting place. The two VWs however were tantalising in their equivalent speed. At the end of Day 2, after Ogier had a puncture and Mikkelsen a broken damper, they were lying sixth and seventh (after 370km stages) only 5.0 seconds apart. Many famous names were missing from the top end of the final results chart, although of the top four top team drivers only Solberg struck trouble. Ott Tanak missed almost all the first full day of competition because of a broken steering arm. Evgeniy Novikov lost most of Day 1 with a broken suspension bolt. Daniel Oliveira had front suspension and power steering failure before being sidelined by engine failure. Only Mads Ostberg and Martin Prokop had good runs. Over at Citroen Nasser Al Attiyah wrecked the rear of his car and Thierry Neuville rolled his, but both were able to continue after missing stages and achieved top 10 results. The two Portugal Team Minis were heading for the finish, Araujo in ninth place, but then both retired with suspension trouble two stages from the end, so the only Mini at the finish was the veteran motor sportsman Eliseo Salazar. Citroen Total have extended their lead over Ford in the Makes’ Championship to 45 points while in the Drivers’ series Sebastien Loeb continues to lead Petter Solberg by the increased margin of 18 points. 30 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: RALLY >>> ARGENTINA 'Ring-in' Dani Sordo looked like being Ford's saviour (left), but he went out on the final stage, handing third to Mads Ostberg (right).