Argentina : BFGoodrich - FinishSebastien Loeb
and Daniel Elena (Citroën/BFGoodrich) secured their second consecutive Rally Argentina win today and also their 24th victory at WRC level, a score which takes Elena level with the record held by Luis Moya, until now the championship's
most successful co-driver.
Marcus Grönholm (Ford/BFGoodrich) fleetingly figured at the top of the leaderboard in South America before falling foul of mechanical trouble at the end of Leg 1, leaving Petter Solberg (Subaru) and Gigi Galli (Peugeot) to join Loeb on the podium. After two successive asphalt rounds, the World Championship returned to gravel for the sixth round of the 2006 season. Both Marcus Grönholm (Ford/BFGoodrich) and Petter Solberg (Subaru) had been looking forward to returning to the loose in Argentina with a view to making up ground on the provisional Drivers' championship leader Sebastien Loeb
(Citroën/BFGoodrich), winner of the past three rounds.
The rally kicked off on Thursday evening when Petter Solberg set the fastest time over the first super- special in front of more than 45,000 fans packed into Cordoba Stadium, while Marcus Grönholm was quickest second time through the same stage. However, serious business only really began the following day when the field headed for the sierra in the La Cumbre region to the north.
Hindered by his position as first driver on the road during Leg 1, Sebastien Loeb
dropped close to 20 seconds to his two rivals and it didn't help matters when he spun. Petter Solberg emerged in front before picking up a puncture, handing top spot to Marcus Grönholm (Ford/BFGoodrich).
The fight between this threesome seemed to be shaping up quite nicely until transmission problems on SS8 saw the Finn's Ford come to an abrupt halt. He was able to re-start the following morning under the SupeRally ruling however and grittily fought his way back from 18th to 10th place to save Ford's honour by salvaging a Manufacturers' point. The anticipated three-cornered scrap at the sharp end consequently turned into a breathtaking duel between Solberg and Loeb which lasted until Saturday morning's SS12, run in thick fog and damp conditions.
A particularly judicious tyre choice (soft compound g-Force Gravel) saw Sebastien Loeb
pull a further 25 seconds clear of the Norwegian in one fell swoop. And neither Saturday afternoon's four stages to the south of Cordoba, nor Sunday morning's daunting classics (Mina Clavero and El Condor) managed to reverse the tendency, allowing Loeb and Elena to claim the 24th WRC success of their career. Following the retirement of Mikko Hirvonen (Ford/BFGoodrich, engine failure on Friday afternoon), the fight for the final step of the podium proved to be an all-Peugeot 307 WRC affair and Manfred Stohl (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) was looking strong until he was delayed by a double puncture towards the end of the first loop.
Celebrating his 100th WRC start, the Austrian fought back bravely however and was even fastest over SS12… before spinning twice in the course of Saturday morning. His Bozian team- mate Henning Solberg (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) profited from these mistakes to steal 4th overall and he too had the pleasure of sharing a fastest stage time with his younger brother Petter! With the bit now very much between his teeth, Stohl was again quickest on Sunday's first stage and succeeded in retrieving 4th spot but ultimately failed in his bid to knock Gigi Galli off the podium by 15.7 seconds.
Competing in Argentina for the very first time at the wheel of a WRC car, Spain's Dani Sordo concentrated on gaining experience of the event's extremely specific terrain which offers very little grip. Finally, the VK-Stobart/BFGoodrich team harvested five Manufacturers' points thanks to Matthew Wilson and local hero Luis Perez-Companc.
Aimé Chatard, BFGoodrich's Rallies Programme Manager
"The autumnal weather we found this year in Argentina made tyre choice particularly crucial. Choices had to be made at service, sometimes hours before the stages were actually scheduled to start, and for loops of four tests at a time. Selections were the result of discussions between the team's delegated BFGoodrich technician, the driver and his engineer, although the driver's decision is always final. Michel, Citroën's BFGoodrich technician, Didier and Sébastien deserve a big bravo for picking the soft compound option on Saturday morning which eventually gave them a decisive advantage! Meanwhile, Jean-Louis and Alain fine-tuned the tyres chosen by their respective drivers to the prevailing conditions by re-cutting their patterns by hand."
Press release BFGoodrich