Argentina: Citroën Sport - Leg 2
At the end of the second leg of the 2007 Rally Argentina, Sebastien Loeb
, Daniel Elena and their Citroën C4 WRC top the provisional leaderboard, while Dani Sordo and Marc Martí follow in 8th place.
After the troubled opening leg,
which finally featured just two super-specials following the logistical problems encountered by the organisers during the return trip from Buenos Aires, serious business finally got underway today with a programme of nine stages totalling 159.6km.
The morning's loop took crews to the sierra around the villages of La Cumbre and La Falda to the north of Villa Carlos Paz before the route headed south for the famous stages of the Santa Rosa de Calamuchita region.
Météo France, one of Citroën Sport's technical partners in 2007, had predicted that rain could be expected from Saturday and the weather indeed turned out to be wet. The combination of cool temperatures (between 14 and 16°C) and damp conditions left little doubt concerning the ideal choice of BFGoodrich tyres for the day: a soft compound and a 're-cut' tread pattern.
After their forced day of rest, Sébastien and Daniel were in excellent form and hit the ground running to claim an impressive run of fastest stage times.
"There are only two days of competition, so we can't afford to hang about," explained Seb.
"I immediately felt comfortable with my C4 but I didn't have any split-times for my rivals, although that was only a problem for us on SS10. When I saw the gaps at the end of the stage, I knew my pace was just right. I tried to keep the same rhythm for the rest of the morning and I was able to pull out a cushion."
Dani and Marc had been just as eager for the competition to resume in earnest but they returned to the lunchtime service halt in a different frame of mind to that of their team-mates.
"We lost the front bumper in the first stage," related Dani. "I don't know how it happened and I didn't see it come off. Without the bumper, the car's handling wasn't perfect, especially through the faster portions. I wasn't happy with my settings either; it wasn't ideal for the amount grip that was available. What was encouraging, however, was to see that the difference between my times and those of the frontrunners has come down compared with last year."
Three-time World Champions Sébastien and Daniel set out for the afternoon's group in the same state of mind and they were rewarded by the satisfaction of beating Marcus on some of his favourite stages in the Santa Rosa region.
"He has always been very strong on these stages," says Sébastien. "We were quicker than him on two occasions (SS16 and 17) which enabled us to increase our lead by a further 3.8 seconds by the end of the loop. I think that says a great deal again about the potential of our Citroën C4."
On these legendary stages, where experience plays a key role, Dani Sordo also put in an impeccable run as he continued to gain experience of gravel competition at WRC level. A hydraulic problem late in the afternoon on SS18 saw him fall back from 4th to 8th place however.
A big Rally Argentina fan, Guy Fréquelin savoured the performance of his troops.
"Everyone at Citroën Sport has done a fantastic job," he observed. "The C4's potential is more and more apparent with every outing and Sébastien and Daniel put in a tremendous drive this morning before going on to beat Marcus on some of his favourite stages. The rally is by no means over, but Seb's score of seven wins from the nine stages contested today has given him the edge after the first of the two true legs."
"Tomorrow's itinerary has been revised to include a second attempt at Giulio Cesare, a 23.18km classic which could well spring a few surprises. In doing this, the organisers have ensured that full points will be awarded after the event because it means a long enough competitive distance will have been covered," he pointed out.
"This is a gravel event that calls for significant experience and you need to be consistently fast. Dani is still young and still needs to acquire these qualities. His 8th place can be explained moreover by the problem he encountered towards the end of the afternoon," Guy Fréquelin concluded.