Joy and heartbreak for SWRT in ruthless Argentine finale
Chris Atkinson and Stephane Prevot finished Rally Argentina in second position overall, making it three out of four podiums from the 2008 season. Team-mates Petter Solberg and Phil Mills were however dealt a cruel blow,
being forced into retirement from second position with only two stages to go after complete electrical failure.
Following a fantastic performance that saw them climb to second position overall on Saturday's stages, Solberg and Mills suffered the cruellest of fates as their Impreza WRC2007 rolled to a stop midway through the first stage of the morning as they lost all electrical power. The duo were denied what would have been their best result since Rally Portugal last year.
"I am desperately disappointed for Petter and Phil" said David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal. "Petter is showing such renewed enthusiasm since we've got the car more to his liking, and despite this setback I'm feeling increasingly confident for the rest of the season. In Chris' case, his maturity in these extraordinarily tough conditions has delivered him yet another excellent result."
Solberg and Mills attempted roadside repairs to their stricken car but were unable to locate the source of the problem and rectify it within the time they had available, exceeding the stage time limit despite their best efforts. The crestfallen duo were unable to complete the final day of a rally on which they demonstrated a reinvigorated level of performance.
In the ensuing reshuffle of the overall standings, Atkinson and Prevot were promoted to second position overall. Fully aware of the hazards posed by the trickiest of the rally's stages, the duo continued their measured and mature drive to bring their Impreza home on the middle step of the podium. The result means that Atkinson has had his best ever start to a WRC season, scoring an impressive three podium finishes from the first four events of the year.
"It's been such a hard weekend it's more of a relief to finish!" said Chris Atkinson. "Another podium is fantastic for us and for the team, there's nothing that motivates the guys more than a great result at the end of all the hard work. The feeling in the car was just so much more consistent this weekend and it was easier to drive so I was able to push without making any big mistakes. It's clear we've taken some good steps forward with the car this year and it's sort of a surprise for me to be third in the championship at the moment. It's a real shame about Petter as he was going very well and we should have had two cars on the podium, but it demonstrates that we're definitely moving in the right direction."
Atkinson's second place in Argentina moves him into third overall in the Drivers' Championship, just three points behind second-placed Hirvonen (Ford). The Subaru World Rally Team emerge from South America in third position overall in the Manufacturers' Championship, but as a result of the electrical problems lost a potential eight points that would have put them within just three of the lead.
The final day of competition provided a short but sharp sting in the tail to this gruelling event. Crews tackled only two full-length stages and a third and final running of the short spectator stage in the ground of the Cordoba Stadium that has proved so popular with fans this weekend. The day's competitive distance was less than a third of that on Friday and Saturday at just over 40 kilometres.
A combination of high altitude and stages that rose steeply as they twisted and snaked their way up and back down the El Condor mountain, today's tests were the hardest of the rally. Whilst engines struggled for power in the thin air, an equally treacherous layer of mud on the roads made the level of grip even more unpredictable and challenging.
East. Rally Jordan is a brand new event for all teams, this being the first year in which Jordan has hosted a WRC event. Set on the banks of the Dead Sea, almost all of the hard-packed sandy routes run below sea level, to a lowest point of 408m below. Temperatures are expected to be upwards 35 degrees Celsius, making it the hottest rally to date this season, and much more suited to Pirelli's hard compound gravel tyre. The rally consists of 21 stages totalling 351 competitive kilometres, and will bring a new challenge to crews as they will battle with the difficulty of judging distances in the vast expanses of desert they will encounter.