An excellent drive by Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah (Subaru) and British co- driver Chris Patterson rewarded the duo victory on Rally Argentina, the fifth round of 2005 FIA Production car World Rally Championship, marking Al-Attiyah's first win in the PCWRC.
(I, Mitsubishi) took second and Chilean driver Luis Rosselot (Mitsubishi) came home third, the pair being promoted up the leaderboard following two exclusions. With half the PCWRC field of South American descent, the win in Argentina for the 2003 Middle East champion, who has made his mark on desert rallies, is an even greater achievement and promotes him to second in the championship behind Toshi Arai (J) and ahead of Xevi Pons (E) and Marcos Ligato (RA).
Unseasonably warm temperatures greeted the rally caravan when it arrived in Argentina last week but as if on cue, the cold, wintry weather arrived just in time for the start of the rally, bringing with it rain, ice and snow in the Pampas mountains towering 2000m above sea level, making conditions tricky for all.
Entertaining a home crowd of an estimated 40,000, Federico Villagra (RA, Mitsubishi) set the fastest times on the opening superspecial stage at the Pro- Racing complex, the rally HQ base, just outside Villa Carlos Paz. But once the rally proper got underway, Mark Higgins stormed through winning the next two stages to take the lead. Villagra fought back setting the fastest time on the next couple of tests but it was not enough to dislodge Higgins from the top spot, until a puncture on stage eight pulled the Briton two and a half minutes down the leaderboard to third, letting Al-Attiyah take the lead with Angelo Medeghini a couple of minutes adrift of the Qatari in third.
Gabriel Pozzo (RA, Subaru) was on a mission on the second day to make up for lost time after stopping on leg one with propshaft failure, the Argentine winning all of the stages but one, reflected in his remarkably high score in the sprinter standings. But with so much time to make up after time penalties, the 2001 PCWRC champion was never going to be able to challenge the frontrunners.
Meanwhile, Medeghini, on his first outing to Argentina since 1996, struggled with a steering problem but managed to hold onto his second place on leg two. The problem recurred on the first run through the infamous El Condor stage at the start of leg three and lengthy repairs and subsequent time penalties pulled him down to fourth.
Happy to reclaim second, Higgins defended his position until the finish, although his seemingly eternal run of bad luck continued as he was excluded after the finish, despite bringing his Subaru back in second, for inadvertently breaking the service rules. Villagra, ecstatic for adopting second place on his home rally, was eventually also excluded for using an illegal turbocharger.
Chilean competitor Luis Rosselot (Mitsubishi) recorded his best result of the season, a steady drive rewarding him with six points for his eventual third sixth place finish. Fabio Frisiero (I, Subaru) stopped on leg one after a stone holed his radiator but utilising the revised restart rules, he continued to finish fourth. Also making use of the restart system, Pozzo held onto his position, finishing fifth, ahead of fellow countryman Sebastien Beltran (Subaru) in sixth.
Cyprus winner Brice Tirabassi (F, Subaru) had an oil leak on leg one that caused a fire and damaged the electrical wiring beyond repair, forcing the Frenchman into retirement. Swede Joakim Roman (Subaru), once again, did not start the rally on medical grounds as an injury from last season continues to mend.
Nasser Al-Attiyah, Subaru Impreza WRX STi spec C
I'm very happy but I'm not surprised - after Turkey Rally we have worked a lot and tested a lot. It's been fantastic for me. The important thing is to be 100 per cent fit. This was a really tough rally and very difficult for me to contain my pace as I would prefer to drive on the limit. However, we did what we needed to do and preserved the car throughout the rally. It's great to now be in the challenge at the front of the championship. Our target is to win the Production Championship next year.
Angelo Medeghini, Mitsubishi Lancer EvoVIII
We fought a lot to get to the finish here. We had a lot of problems and it becomes quite dangerous to drive a car like that in these conditions. But I'm very happy to get to the finish I really didn't expect to be on the podium. In fact I didn't really have any expectations form this rally as it's the first I have done when I've not been sick but it's a great result!