Friday wrap: Latvala leads after day one

The Finn has driven impeccably all day

By Franck Drui

27 May 2011 - 23:29
Friday wrap: Latvala leads after day one

Jari-Matti Latvala will begin day two of Rally Argentina with a lead of 18.2s in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC following Friday’s six testing stages in the punishing Traslasierra mountains of the country’s Cordoba region.

Apart from a minor stall on stage seven, the Finn has driven impeccably all day, recording a total of four fastest stage times as he chases his first win of 2011 in front of tens of thousands of passionate rally fans who braved cold early morning temperatures to watch the close battle for glory unfold.

“It’s been a good day actually, I’m pleased with my performance and I enjoyed the Tarmac sections,” said the 26-year-old. “Being first car on the road is a good position for tomorrow and I feel really confident I can keep this lead.”

Co-driven by Miikka Anttila, the highlight of Latvala’s day occurred on the first run through the mixed-surface El Condor stage, which concluded with a 20-kilometre all-asphalt stretch. Latvala was 9.3s faster than his closest rival, Petter Solberg, and recorded an average speed of 196.2kph over the final 5.94-kilometres of the test.

Solberg will start day two in a strong second place in his privateer Citroen DS3 WRC, which is being co-driven by Northern Ireland’s Chris Patterson. “It’s been a very good day and I’ve only lost out on Tarmac where I have done no testing,” said the Norwegian, whose quickest time on stage six was the 400th of his career.

Sebastien Ogier began Friday afternoon’s loop of three stages in third overall, 16.2s adrift of leader Latvala. But his efforts to close the gap to the Finn suffered a setback when he spun on stage five, the repeat of the El Mirador-San Lorenzo test. The moment cost the Citroen star approximately five seconds. He also admitted to being “scared” on the Tarmac section during the second run through the El Condor stage as his gravel tyres became increasingly worn. “Third position is not bad,” he said.

Works Ford pilot Mikko Hirvonen trails Ogier by 14.7s in fourth spot after reporting a lack of confidence through the asphalt sections of El Condor. “My tyres were completely finished and I also made a mistake with the car set-up,” said Hirvonen. “The car was moving and we didn’t have any rubber left. But apart from that it’s been okay and fourth on the road tomorrow is not bad.”

Seven-time world champion Sebastien Loeb’s hopes of landing his sixth win in Argentina hang in the balance after the Frenchman was handed a one-minute time penalty following an early check-in prior to the midday regroup in Villa Carlos Paz. Despite rounding out Friday’s stages with the fastest time through the final test, the Citroen driver is 1m30.3s off the pace overnight.

“The gap is too big for tomorrow in this situation,” said Loeb. “It’s not been a good day. But it was not a tactic, [it was] a mistake for the penalty. There were a lot of people at the checkpoint and people in front of the red [board]. I didn’t see it, I went too far, maybe 10 metres.”

Mads Ostberg reported a rear differential glitch on his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta as he completed day one in sixth overall. The Norwegian, who is competing in Argentina for the first time, said: “It’s the roughest day I’ve ever done but it’s been quite interesting and I’ve learned something.”

Federico Villagra is the top Argentine driver in eighth overall at the wheel of his Munchi’s Fiesta, one place behind Briton Matthew Wilson who drove without error in his M-Sport Stobart example. Ken Block is ninth in his Monster Fiesta and the last of the World Rally Car runners following the retirements of Daniel Oliveira and Peter van Merksteijn Jr due to technical failures.

Saturday’s action gets underway with the mixed-surface Las Jarillas-Falda del Carmen test, which is due to start at 08:13hrs local time.



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