Argentina: BP-Ford - Leg 1
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lead Rally Argentina this evening after an opening leg in which virtually the entire itinerary was scrapped after transport problems left many drivers stranded in Buenos Aires last
Just two short stadium-based speed tests were held, one last night in the Argentine capital and the other tonight (Friday) in Cordoba, as organisers battled to salvage some action from a leg in which they cancelled seven special stages.
Hirvonen's Ford Focus RS World Rally Car was fastest on both the 2.40km stage in Buenos Aires' historic River Plate soccer stadium and the identical test in Cordoba's soccer arena. The 26-year-old Finn comfortably beat Manfred Stohl on both occasions as two cars at a time raced side-by-side around three laps of the purpose-built loose-surface stages. He leads by 2.4sec from Dani Sordo.
"I have been fastest on every stage in the leg!" he joked.
"There were many spectators in Cordoba tonight and it felt better to drive here than in Buenos Aires last night. I love this rally and I can't wait for it to start properly tomorrow. With no action for most of today I have been catching up on some sleep and preparing for tomorrow by watching in-car videos of the stages from our recce," he said.
Team-mates and fellow Finns Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen are fourth in another Focus RS, 3.0sec behind Hirvonen. Thirty-nine-year-old Grönholm defeated championship leader Sebastien Loeb
by 0.9sec in the River Plate stadium but was edged out by 1.0sec in Cordoba.
"It started to rain in Cordoba just before I started the stage and the surface, which was already wet, became even slippier. I didn't enjoy it and after the problems today it was hard to become motivated for such a short stage. I'm looking forward to what I hope will be a better day tomorrow," he said.
The problems for this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship began after last night's stage in Buenos Aires, 700km south of the rally base in Carlos Paz. The drivers were due to return to Carlos Paz by plane, while the cars left for an overnight journey by transporter in readiness for today's opening leg on the sandy gravel roads in the Punilla Valley, north of the town.
However, radar communication problems at Buenos Aires airport and then a huge storm delayed the flights by four hours. Two of the three charter flights eventually arrived at Cordoba airport, with drivers reaching their hotels in Carlos Paz at 03.30.
However, more bad weather forced a third plane to turn back, stranding officials, team personnel and other drivers in Buenos Aires airport for the night. Fog at Cordoba this morning meant the flight was again unable to depart and some drivers did not reach their hotels until shortly before 17.00.
Organisers had to scrap seven stages, to the disappointment of the huge crowds waiting to see their heroes. Tomorrow's leg will run as scheduled but organisers are considering changes to Sunday's itinerary to ensure the rally completes the required two-thirds distance for full points to be awarded.
Press Release BP-Ford WRT