Argentina : Finish / PCWRC - Summary
An excellent drive by 2005 PCWRC runner-up Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT, Subaru) and co-driver Chris Patterson (GB) rewarded the duo victory on an incredibly challenging Rally Argentina, the third round of the 2006 FIA Production car World
His only real competitor by the final day of the rally was Polish driver Leszek Kuzaj (Subaru) who finished 1min 30.4sec behind, and third place went to Mirco Baldacci (RSM, Mitsubishi) who came home a huge 14 minutes adrift, weighed down by time penalties. The three drivers now hold first, second and third respectively in the PCWRC standings, with Al-Attiyah clear by 11 points.
Baldacci kicked off the event in style, winning both runs around the 2.2km superspecial stage in the 45,000- spectator-packed Cordoba Stadium. But with Argentine pride at stake, the locals soon kicked into gear, with Gabriel Pozzo (RA, Mitsubishi) demonstrating flair through the first few stages proper, closely backed by Tango Rally team-mate Sebastien Beltrán (RA, Mitsubishi) and by stage four we had an Argentine top three with Marcos Ligato (RA, Mitsubishi) in check too. But SS5 saw Ligato stop with a broken steering arm and SS6 saw Pozzo damage his radiator going through a water splash forcing him into retirement, so the leaderboard took on a different form as their Argentine team-mate Beltrán won the next stage and adopted the lead, followed by Al-Attiyah and Baldacci.
A mistake checking into a time control early cost Al-Attiyah two minutes and the Qatari driver, who won the PCWRC category in Argentina last year, just managed to make it back into second, with Kuzaj in third, by the end of the first day.
Beltrán and Al-Attiyah held position at the start of leg two with Kuzaj and Baldacci fighting for third, but disappointment struck for Beltrán when a broken suspension arm on SS14 saw a large quantity of time penalties coming his way, dashing all chances of victory. But with almost all other drivers utilising the SupeRally rule to continue, he was not alone in banking time penalties and he continued to fight hard. Baldacci's day ended with a turbo problem but with his nearest rival so far behind him, the penalty incurred for not finishing SS18 did not affect his overall position, ending the day in third.
With such huge gaps between the top four positions, the battle to watch on the final day was between self-confessed ‘gentleman driver' Nigel Heath (GB, Subaru) and Beltrán. Heath, who is the first to admit he competes for enjoyment rather than results, found himself fighting to defend his fourth place from Beltrán as the Argentine literally took minutes out of him on the tricky Mino Clavero and El Condor stages, but Heath kept his advantage holding onto fourth by only two seconds, leaving Beltrán content with fifth. Beltrán also finished top of the sprinter standings for the event.
After dropping down the order on leg one, Ligato fought hard, winning two stages the next day and climbing three places to seventh. Disappointment struck again on SS15 when he dropped time stopping to change a puncture, only to incur another puncture later on the same stage but he stayed out of trouble on the final day to finish sixth.
Stefano Marrini (I, Mitsubishi) drove steadily until he hit a rock on the penultimate stage of leg two, damaging his suspension. Once fixed, he restarted leg three with the sole aim of staying out of trouble in order to finish, eventually coming home with two points for seventh.
Defending PCWRC champion Toshi Arai (J, Subaru) had a difficult rally which started when he bent a steering arm in SS4 which eventually broke by SS6, so the Japanese started bagging time penalties early on. Clearly keen to make up time, he won two stages early on leg two, but stopped to change a puncture a few stages later, admitting he was simply going too fast, and then sustained front suspension damage on SS16. A few more punctures later, he was relieved to reach the finish, taking the last available point for eighth.
Sergey Uspenskiy (RUS, Subaru) went off the road on SS12 and despite having no damage to the car, he was unable to rejoin the road, but the five-time Russian Rally Champion continued on leg three to eventually finish ninth, after Arai jumped ahead of him only on the final day.
With the number of incidents happening, retirements were inevitable. Takuma Kamada's (J, Subaru) PCWRC debut came to a swift end as mechanical problems prevented him from starting the event for the opening superspecial stage. Aki Teiskonen (FIN, Subaru) didn't make a good start to the season as he was challenged with driving a few stages with a damaged suspension mid-leg one. On the final stage of the first day a ball joint broke and he collided with a rock face, rolling the car. While there was little mechanical damage, the roll cage was damaged preventing him from restarting on safety grounds. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN, Subaru) was excused from starting the event after breaking his finger in Corsica a few weeks ago.
Nasser Al-Attiyah, Subaru Impreza WRX STi spec C
“We had a plan and we worked steadily. It's a very difficult rally, it's really not easy so you need a good plan and you have to stick to it. I'd like to thank everyone who has helped us – the team and my co-driver Chris. But I'm so happy with our performance and result.”
Leszek Kuzaj, Subaru Impreza WRX STi spec C
“It was a good rally for us but you have to be really careful here. The beginning was hard, mainly due to a wrong tyre choice on leg one. Then we improved on day two, despite a few problems, and leg three we had a puncture but finally it is a good result! It's only my second PCWRC event so I tried to drive smoothly and carefully and not too fast as we needed to finish to score the points. In general this is a nice rally – I like the roads and I'm happy with my times considering I was able to fight with Nasser [Al-Attiyah].”
Mirco Baldacci, Mitsubishi Lancer EvoIX
“This is the most difficult rally of the championship, I think, maybe even worse than Acropolis. For us it has been very hard, especially yesterday when we drove four stages without the turbo and then decided not to drive the last one and to SupeRally instead. Third place and six points is very important for the championship, especially as it's not easy in these cars. I'm happy but I still believe in the next few events we can do better!”