Argentina - P-WRC - Finish
Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT, Subaru) hadn't won a round of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship since 2006 – the same year he won the title – but he returned to winning form on Rally Argentina.
Co-driven by Giovanni Bernacchini, the
reigning Middle East Rally Champion led the P-WRC section on three separate occasions as an exciting battle for victory saw five drivers set fastest stage times and four different drivers lead.
Al-Attiyah's strategy of pacing himself over the rough and rocky terrain paid dividends, as he won the P-WRC category in Argentina for the third time in his career – and in doing so stakes his claim on this year's title. At the halfway point of the season, Al-ttiyah is now second in the championship with 21 points; two points behind Armindo Araujo (P, Mitsubishi) and one point ahead of Patrik Sandell (S, Skoda).
The rocky gravel roads around the rally's base in Villa Carlos Paz – with the majority of the 331.80kms of stages taking place on the open plains of the Punilla Valley (Days One and Three) and in the Traslasierra Mountain region (Day Two) – were to prove a great challenge for the six Mitsubishi Lancers and five Subaru Imprezas which made up the P-WRC entry.
The stage surface was so rough in places that damaged steerings and bent suspensions were almost unavoidable, and drivers had to use all their driving skills and mechanical knowledge to keep their cars running.
Al-Attiyah led for the first three stages, but he bent the steering rod on SS6. It was something all Subaru drivers had anticipated as the standard parts were pushed to there limit on the rough roads, and Al-Attiyah carried the necessary parts to fix the problem on the road section.
Driving fast enough to maintain his challenge for the P-WRC win, but careful enough not to cause any serious damage, Al-Attiyah's clever strategy was to give him a well-deserved victory. As both the other P-WRC leaders hit problems, Al-Attiyah was eventually able to cruise home in his Barwa Rally Team Impreza and win by 2mins 12.9secs.
Marcos Ligato (RA, Mitsubishi) gave the Lancer Evo X its best P-WRC result to date with second, although the local guest driver was disappointed not to maintain the lead he took on SS11. He held a 2.1 second lead going into SS16, but lost two minutes on the second run over the famous El Condor stage when the power steering failed. He needed Al- Attiyah to hit problems to be able to make up the lost time, but the leader stayed calm and in control, leaving Ligato in the runner's-up position.
Toshi Arai (J, Subaru) had started well and had been challenging for the lead until the double P-WRC Champion slipped to fourth after bending the steering rod on SS6. Whilst running repairs allowed him to continue, his team rose to the challenge by replacing the steering column in just 12 minutes during the early morning service at the start of Day Two.
Arai's hopes of claiming his first Argentine P-WRC victory faded on SS11 when the steering tie-rod bent and he lost almost three minutes. A broken front left driveshaft on SS16 sealed his fate, as he was forced to drive through SS17 and the short superspecial at the Cordoba Stadium in just rear-wheel drive. Arai admitted to being "half driver, half mechanic" in Argentina, and his efforts – both in and underneath his Impreza – were rewarded with third position.
Paramount for Spyros Pavlides (CY, Subaru) was reaching the finish, and whilst he drove carefully on Day One he still had to complete the afternoon's repeated loop of stages with a broken rear suspension. Consistency was paying off however, and despite bending the steering, Pavlides had established himself in a strong fourth position by the end of Day Two. He continued to drive cautiously, and was rewarded with fourth place.
A bizarre pre-event mix-up forced Eyvind Brynildsen (N, Mitsubishi) to rent a rally car off the VRS Rally Team (which runs a number of Lancers in the Argentinean National Rally Championship), after his own car and equipment were shipped to Buenos Aires via Rio de Janeiro... but was returned to Ralliart New Zealand by Brazilian customs.
The freight fiasco had serious consequences once the rally started, as Brynildsen's hopes of a P-WRC victory – and potentially moving from third and into the lead in the P-WRC standings – were dashed on Day One. The hastily-prepared substitute car began to overheat on SS3 and was slowed again on the following two stages when it lost turbo boost.
Worse was to follow when Day One's stages were repeated in the afternoon, as the car was reduced to a maximum speed of 60kph on SS6 when the ignition coil failed. With 60kms of stages remaining before service, Brynildsen decided to save the engine for Day Two and incurred 20 minutes of penalties for missing the day's last four stages.
A new dawn brought the same old problems, as the 21-year-old's torture continued when the car lapsed onto two cylinders for the opening loop of four stages and then a broken rear differential left the car in front-wheel-drive for most of the afternoon.
Brynildsen's commendable tenacity paid dividends as he eventually finished fifth, thanks to several of the cars ahead suffering more terminal problems.
Gabor Mayer (H, Subaru) started cautiously and gradually increased his pace, setting a personal fifth-best fastest P-WRC time on SS8. He completed Day One in seventh position, but lost 16 minutes on the second stage of Day Two (SS11) when the car spluttered to a halt with fuel pressure problems. He was determined to continue without incurring penalties for missing stages and was rewarded with sixth at the finish.
Stefano Marrini (I, Mitsubishi) had a disastrous start when he lost eight minutes off the road on SS2 and damaged the gearbox getting back on the road. He incurred 20 minutes of penalties for missing four stages on Day One, and a bent suspension arm on SS11 forced him out of Day Two's action. He tried hard to reach the finish, but a broken radiator on SS20 intervened and his problematic rally ended by the side of the road.
P-WRC guest driver Gabriel Pozzo (RA, Subaru) took the lead on SS3 and edged away from a titanic battle for second place by establishing a 59.2-second advantage after SS7. Steering problems on the final two stages of Day One reduced that led to just 7.4 seconds, and whilst he had been relieved to reach the end of SS9, his rally came to an end on the road section to SS10 when a spark plug failed and his Impreza's engine fell onto three cylinders.
Had this not happened, it would have been highly likely that Pozzo would have had to stop anyway, as his co-driver Daniel Stillo was taken ill with kidney stone problems.
Luciano Bernardi (RA, Mitsubishi) enjoyed his first drive in a Lancer Evo X, despite losing the power steering on SS8 and being forced to man-handle the car through SS9, the twistiest stage of the event. He set the fastest P-WRC time on the fastest stage of the event (SS10) and benefited from Pozzo's problems to move up to fourth. He remained in that position until he entered the mid-day service, but an engine problem meant he never left Carlos Paz.
With Armindo Araujo and Patrik Sandell – who were lying first and second in the drivers' standings heading into Rally Argentina – electing to miss this event, and third-placed Brynildsen severely disadvantaged, fourth placed Martin Prokop (CZ, Mitsubishi) saw a great opportunity to strengthen his P-WRC title challenge in Argentina.
Taking no risks and avoiding the worst of the rocks, he drove intelligently on Day One to establish himself in a solid fifth position. He knew that if he kept to his steady game-plan, the drivers who were pushing harder and fighting for P-WRC victory in Argentina could well hit problems, and Prokop had positioned himself to benefit from anyone else's misfortune.
Unfortunately, it all went wrong at the end of Day One, when his Lancer Evo IX was found to be running front disc brakes which did not conform to the homologation. There was no intention whatsoever to gain a performance advantage, the team apologised for making a mistake and Prokop was excluded from the event.
Frederic Sauvan's (F, Mitsubishi) broke the rear differential on his Lancer Evo IX on SS3 and elected not to continue.
Egoi Valdez (E, Subaru), who had cut his hand on a glass door a few days before Rally de Portugal, had nominated Rally Argentina as one of his six P-WRC events but he did not make the trip to South America and was allowed to miss the event, for medical reasons accepted by FIA.
1st – Nasser Al-Attiyah, Subaru Impreza:
"I really enjoyed this weekend and I'd like to thank my team for doing such a good job. We have had a good start to the season and now we are in good shape to try to win the P-WRC – like we did in 2006."
2nd – Marcos Ligato, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X:
"This is a very good result. Of course I'm a little disappointed to have finished second because we were leading before our power steering problems, but we got to the end of the rally, which is good for me and the team."
3rd – Toshi Arai, Subaru Impreza:
"Scoring points in Argentina is very good, but I am so tired because on this rally I have been half driver, half mechanic! We have had to think a lot about how to drive and keep the car going in these rough conditions."